Why will secondary pupils still have to wear face masks after Easter?
- Credit: PA
Students at Norfolk secondary schools will need to continue wearing face masks when they return to classrooms next week.
Face coverings have been required in secondary schools and in colleges and for adults in primary schools since the return of all pupils on March 8.
The government had said it would review the policy over Easter. But the Department for Education (DfE) confirmed this week it had decided to keep it in place for the return after the holidays.
The issue has proved controversial with some parents groups critical of the impact on young people, while five education union leaders had called on ministers not to "rush into" changes without careful consideration of the scientific evidence.
So what is the thinking behind the ongoing rules to wear masks?
Why has the decision been made for students to continue wearing face masks after Easter?
A review of the measures on face coverings in classrooms has taken place over Easter based on the latest scientific and medical advice.
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The DfE said that, in line with public health advice and based on evidence from the last few weeks, face coverings should continue to be worn by adults and those in Year 7 and above as a precautionary measure.
The guidance will be reassessed again but no earlier than May 17.
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What does the medical and scientific advice say?
The DfE said it had taken into account the latest scientific evidence and data from Public Health England and feedback from teachers and leaders on their experiences of face coverings being worn in classrooms.
Alongside rapid testing, officials said available scientific evidence suggests that, when used correctly, wearing face coverings reduces the emission of virus-carrying particles when worn by an infected user, helping to protect others.
What about those who are exempt?
Those who are currently exempt from wearing face coverings will remain so, including pupils or staff who are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate.
But don’t face masks hinder students' learning?
Officials have said they accept teaching and learning can be “more challenging” when wearing face coverings but that this must be “balanced against the public health considerations and keeping pupils as safe as possible in school as the vaccine roll-out continues”.
“In certain circumstances, for example, for people who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability it would not be appropriate so in those instances students do not have to wear face coverings,” said a DfE spokesman.
The same applies where wearing a face covering would have an impact on the ability to take part in exercise or strenuous activity, for example, in PE lessons.
What about students aged over 18?
The position remains unchanged. In schools and colleges pupils and students in year 7 should wear face coverings. This includes in the classrooms and during activities, unless social distancing can be maintained, or they are exempt.
So will the face mask rule be dropped on May 17?
Not necessarily but face coverings in schools and colleges will be under review at that point.
“We do not want pupils to have to wear face coverings any longer than is necessary – but while it is necessary the current measures will remain in place,” added the spokesman.