Some colleges have told students they should keep wearing face masks in classes, despite the government lifting its recommendation to do so.
Guidance for face masks in classrooms was brought back in January this year, with face coverings being recommended in communal areas since last November.
On Wednesday, Boris Johnson told MPs that Plan B regulations put in place to tackle the Omicron variant of Covid are to end.
This includes face masks in classrooms, which would no longer be required (with effect from yesterday), and rules requiring coverings in indoor communal areas would no longer apply from January 27.
While most colleges have announced policies in line with this new government guidance, some are still urging, and in one case forcing, students to keep covered up.
“Following yesterday’s announcement of the phased removal of Plan B measures, we are continuing to require all staff and students to wear a face mask in all corridors, circulation spaces, communal spaces and classrooms,” the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College said in a tweet.
“Students without a mask will not be permitted to enter the college and are asked to return with a mask before entering the building. The usual exemptions apply. We will continue to assess these measures and communicate to explain any changes and when they will take effect.”
FE Week contacted the college but did not receive a reply by the time of publication. Other colleges took a less hardline approach, but still encouraged to students to wear masks.
Wakefield College advised students to keep wearing face coverings while Covid-19 cases remained high.
A spokesperson from Nottingham College told FE Week that as well as taking national guidance into account, they closely monitor what is happening locally, so they can implement measures to keep their students, staff and wider community safe.
“Taking all things into consideration we will continue to recommend the use of face coverings when out and about on our campuses, reflecting the excellent work we’ve done to keep cases to a minimum across the college,” the spokesperson said.
“This will not be a mandatory requirement but part of our ongoing cautious approach that has helped us keep all our onsite provision open and available to students during this period.”
One college, Oldham College in Greater Manchester, took a completely different approach and told students they did not have to wear masks anywhere on campus.
This was despite government guidance saying masks should be used in indoor communal areas for another week.
“We have informed learners they don’t need to wear face coverings in classrooms and have also stressed that anyone who wishes to do so, in any area, will be fully supported in their choice,” an Oldham College spokesperson said.
“Our campus is a series of many separate buildings with a wide mix of indoor and outdoor spaces, and with good ventilation. “That is why we are not mandating the wearing of face coverings in other areas and have made it optional for a period of just five learning days before January 27.”
General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, said Boris Johnson’s decision around the wearing of face masks in classrooms will be welcomed, if it is supported by sound public health and scientific advice.
“However, the situation in schools and colleges remains extremely challenging, with significant levels of pupil and staff absence because of Covid-19 as well as difficulties in obtaining supply cover because of high demand.
“We continue to be very concerned about the ongoing disruption to education and the lack of sufficient support from the government for testing, ventilation, and the costs of supply cover. This really does need to be addressed.”