Secondary school pupils and teachers must wear face coverings in communal areas

By Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent
·4-min read

All students and teachers in secondary schools and colleges in England should wear face coverings when moving around the premises, according to new Government guidance.

Extra-curricular activities can be held before and after school – but it has to be for childcare purposes rather than simply for sports clubs.

The guidance for education and childcare settings has been published by the Government just hours before the start of the four-week lockdown in England.

Schools, colleges, universities, nurseries and childminders will remain open when the new national restrictions come into effect on Thursday.

But now all students and staff in secondary schools and colleges will be required to wear face coverings in communal spaces, outside of classrooms, where social distancing cannot be maintained.

The guidance says primary school children do not need to wear face coverings, and older children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities may be exempt from wearing them, depending on their need.

The Department for Education (DfE) has said no-one should be excluded from education for not having a face covering.

The guidance also notes that sports competitions between different schools should not take place, in line with the wider restrictions on grassroots sport.

But it adds: “Schools are able to work with external coaches, clubs and organisations for curricular activities where they are satisfied that it is safe to do so.

“Where schools are offering extra-curricular activities (that is, before and after school clubs) they should only do so where it is reasonably necessary to support parents to work, search for work, or undertake training or education, or where the provision is being used for the purposes of respite care.”

Clinically extremely vulnerable staff and pupils should not come into school or college, the advice says.

Headteachers are concerned that schools may struggle to remain open during the lockdown period if more staff are missing from the workplace.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Schools and colleges have been waiting for this guidance since the Prime Minister’s announcement on Saturday, and it is frustrating that it has taken so long to arrive given that they now have to digest and implement these measures in a short timeframe.”

He said: “This extension to the rule on face coverings is a sensible response to rising Covid levels, and will act as an extra level of protection on top of the other safety measures in schools.

“It is vital that this requirement is respected by all parents and pupils. The vast majority are supportive, but we are aware of schools receiving objections from some parents to existing policies.”

The DfE has said schools should work to implement the guidance as soon as possible, but have until Monday (November 9) if they require additional time.

Mr Barton added that it was “frustrating” that there was still no information on what circumstances would trigger the Government’s own contingency plan for rota systems in secondary schools.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The Government’s last-minute publication of this guidance does not help schools in this matter one bit.

“Frankly, it is ridiculous that this new guidance has landed on school leaders’ desks less than 24 hours before the start of the national lockdown.

“There is very little in the guidance that could not have been communicated with schools 72 hours ago.”

He added: “Given the restrictions around clinically extremely vulnerable staff, the reality is that some schools may now find it increasingly difficult to remain open to all pupils.

“We restate our call for the Government to fully fund all measures that schools will need to take to remain open, including Covid safety measures and any additional costs that may come from hiring in supply staff.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “We must put the interests of our children and young people first, especially when the benefits of being in the classroom are clear.

“Children are settled back into their routines and schools have protective measures in place keep their staff and pupils as safe as possible.

“Education is a national priority and we cannot allow it to be disrupted again.”