Face coverings should be worn by staff and pupils when moving around secondary schools in Scotland from next Monday, the Scottish Government has confirmed.
The rule will apply on school transport for primary school pupils aged five and above, and all those at secondary school, but not in classrooms.
The changes come into effect from August 31 but Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney has stressed pupils will not be excluded from school if they do not wear a face covering.
Mr Swinney said: “We said that our guidance would be kept under constant review and, following updated scientific and public health advice and the experience of schools reopening, we are making changes that will apply from 31 August.
“There is increasing evidence that face coverings can provide some protection for the wearer as well as those around them.
“We also know that some pupils have found it very difficult to physically distance when moving around school, which could increase the risk of transmission of the virus. And on school transport, as on public transport, there can be mixing between different age groups.
“We have worked with partners on the Education Recovery Group to update the guidance to ensure face coverings are worn in corridors and confined communal areas in secondary schools, and on school transport.
“Schools will be asked to ensure children and young people have clear instructions on how to put on, remove, and store face coverings. Any staff member or pupil will still be able to wear a face covering when they wish to do so.
“We want to continue to protect what we have achieved in suppressing the virus and re-opening schools, and to do the best for children in schools.”
He said maintaining high standards of hygiene and ensuring physical distancing where possible continues to be required.
He added: “In situations where there is a local cluster, use of face coverings throughout the day may be required.
“The position will be kept under review to ensure that our approach remains commensurate with the evidence and the levels of transmission in Scotland.”
Remember, you can have #coronavirus but show no symptoms. Wearing a face covering helps to reduce the risk of you unknowingly infecting others.
Find out how to #StaySafe and protect others ⬇️
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) August 24, 2020
The Scottish Government said while staff and students can continue to wear face coverings if they wish to, face coverings will not generally be necessary in the classroom as there is greater scope for physical distancing and face coverings can have an impact on learning and teaching.
However, it remains the case that where adults cannot keep a two-metre distance and are interacting face-to-face for more than 15 minutes, face coverings should be worn.
Further detail on the guidance is expected to be published later on Tuesday.
Earlier, Mr Swinney told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme the guidance for moving around secondary schools would apply to those aged over 12.
He said that headteachers had felt the rules would be a “beneficial move” during discussions last week.
Mr Swinney continued: “Now, of course, there will be exemptions for this, because the wearing of face coverings is not suitable for all individuals and that has to be respected.”
The guidance will state that pupils should not be excluded from school if they do not wish to wear a face covering.
The Education Secretary added: “That will be explicit within the guidance that we put out, that a young person is not to be excluded for that reason, but it’s obligatory guidance on all secondary schools, special schools and grant-aided schools.”
Jo Bisset, organiser of the campaign group Us For Them Scotland, criticised the move, saying: “This is a very disappointing move and parents across Scotland will be angry at this new rule.
“It will impact vulnerable pupils the most and creates another unnecessary challenge for children who’ve already endured months of misery.
“This is also a slippery slope. Today it’s over-12s in certain areas of school. But parents are worried that will very easily become all areas of the school, including the classroom.
“And if masks must be worn by those over 12, why not by eight and nine-year-olds?
“The WHO guidance says this applies in areas where there are high rates of infection, but we know in Scotland that is simply not the case at the moment.
“We urge the Scottish Government to keep this under review, and lift the mandatory wearing of masks at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, welcomed the Government’s decision, saying it is a “sensible and appropriate step” to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 but called for a “much sharper focus” on ensuring social distancing in schools.
A total of 10,665 pupils across Scotland were absent either for all or part of the school day because of Covid-19 related reasons on Friday, according to new data released by the Scottish Government on Tuesday.