Face masks will no longer be required in secondary school classrooms in England after 17 May, Boris Johnson has confirmed.
As the Prime Minister announced details of step 3 of the country’s roadmap out of lockdown, he confirmed that face coverings will no longer have to be worn in classrooms or communal areas by pupils.
Transmission of Covid-19 in schools continues to decrease in line with wider community transmission, and the latest Covid statistics show a significant drop in the number of teachers and staff testing positive for the virus.
However, some head teachers warned that the decision to remove masks was “hard to reconcile” with the evidence on safety, and five unions last week wrote to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson urging him to keep masks in place until at least 21 June.
Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union, said: “It is obviously better for communication and learning if we don’t need to have children wearing face masks in classrooms.
“But any decision to this effect must follow the scientific advice, and it is very worrying that the government’s decision appears to contradict the published evidence.”
Jon Richards, the head of education at UNISON, said: “This is a case of too much, too soon. Everyone wants to get back to normality, but any change has to happen safely. Otherwise, all the care taken over the past few months in schools could be undone.
Step three of the Roadmap allows people to mix indoors once again and in line with the latest data, we no longer need to recommend that face coverings are worn in the classroom
– Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary
“Face masks will still be needed in other indoor spaces like shops, restaurants and cinemas. Schools and colleges shouldn’t be treated any differently.
“New virus variants are out in the community. Yet despite repeated requests ministers have failed to reveal the extent of the new strains in schools. Pupils, parents and staff deserve much better.”
Mr Williamson said: “Step three of the Roadmap allows people to mix indoors once again and in line with the latest data, we no longer need to recommend that face coverings are worn in the classroom.
“Over the past year we have always put the wellbeing of pupils and staff first, and this step is now the right one, as vaccinations protect the most vulnerable in society and we turn our attention to building back better from the pandemic.
“Testing in schools and colleges continues to be important, so I urge all students, families and teachers to keep testing themselves twice weekly, to help reduce the risk of transmission.”
John Simpson, Head of Public Health Advice, Guidance and Expertise Pillar (PHAGE) at Public Health England, said: “Scientific studies show that Covid-19 transmission in schools remains low. This evidence has been reviewed alongside criteria for the wider easing of restrictions.
“It’s important to strike a balance between Covid-19 protection and student wellbeing and the guidance on face coverings for secondary school pupils has been kept under constant review.
“Existing control measures in schools including good ventilation, handwashing, social distancing where possible and twice weekly testing remain hugely important.”