Government to U-turn on masks in colleges

Staff and students will be expected to wear face coverings in colleges in England from September following a government U-turn, FE Week understands.

Ministers are expected to announce the change later today following growing pressure in the wake of a similar decision in Scotland and changes to World Health Organisation guidelines.

It means staff and students will be expected to wear face coverings in schools and colleges,  in all places where social distancing can’t happen.

Students who cannot wear masks for medical reasons will be exempt, as will those in special settings.

However, it is not clear whether the requirement will be made statutory or enforced if schools or colleges opt not to follow it.

Current Department for Education guidance states that face coverings are not required in England because “pupils and staff are mixing in consistent groups, and because misuse may inadvertently increase the risk of transmission”.

But the decision this week by the Scottish government to make face coverings mandatory for high school pupils, and recently-updated World Health Organisation guidance stating pupils aged 12 and over should wear masks “under the same conditions as adults” has prompted speculation that England may soon follow suit.

Alok Sharma, the business secretary, told Sky News this morning that there was “no current plan” to review the guidance on face coverings in England’s schools.

But ministers appear to have caved to pressure after headteachers said it would be “prudent” to review the guidance.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said earlier today that any U-turn should come “sooner rather than later” to give schools and colleges time to prepare.

It also comes after a number of schools across England announced they would break with the government guidance to either provide or require face coverings.

 

Update: The government has now confirmed it will update its guidance on face coverings, with stricter rules for colleges in high transmission areas. You can read our latest story here.