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Education: Lipreading

Question for Department for Education

UIN 158178, tabled on 24 February 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the covid-19 advice on face coverings in educational settings, what steps he is taking to support students who rely on lip reading.

Answered on

3 March 2021

The Department continues to work closely with other government departments throughout its response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including Public Health England (PHE) and the Department of Health and Social Care, as well as stakeholders across the sector. We continue to work to ensure that our policy is based on the latest scientific and medical advice, to continue to develop comprehensive guidance based on the PHE-endorsed ‘system of controls’ and to understand the impact and effectiveness of these measures on staff, pupils and parents.

The Department has recently published updated guidance to support the full opening to education from 8 March, which includes updated advice on face coverings. The guidance can be found here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/964351/Schools_coronavirus_operational_guidance.pdf.

As the guidance outlines, where pupils and students in Year 7 and above are educated, we recommend that face coverings should be worn by adults, pupils and students when moving around the premises, outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained.

In addition, from 8 March, we now also recommend that in schools and colleges where pupils and students in year 7 and above are educated, face coverings should be worn in classrooms unless social distancing can be maintained.

In primary schools, we recommend that face coverings should be worn by staff and adult visitors in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible (for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas). Children in primary school do not need to wear a face covering.

Some individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings. This includes people who cannot put on, wear, or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability, or if you are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate. The same legal exemptions that apply to the wearing of face coverings in shops and on public transport also apply in education settings.

Transparent face coverings, which may assist communication with someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate, can also be worn. There is currently very limited evidence regarding the effectiveness or safety of transparent face coverings, but they may be effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

The Department is recommending these precautionary measures for a limited time during this period of high COVID-19 prevalence in the community. These measures will be in place until Easter, and as with all measures, we will keep this under close review.