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Schools: Protective Clothing

Question for Department for Education

UIN 185840, tabled on 22 April 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will publish details of the review that took place over the Easter holidays to assess the evidence on whether the covid-19 advice on the wearing of face coverings in secondary schools can be eased.

Answered on

28 April 2021

It is vital that all pupils can attend school to minimise the long-term impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on their education, wellbeing, and wider development, which is why enabling face-to-face education for all pupils remains a national priority.

To support the return to full attendance on 8 March, the Department published updated guidance for schools, which included updated advice on face coverings. The guidance can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-schools-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak.

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

Since 8 March and following an ongoing review of the available evidence and in line with public health advice, we also continue to recommend that face coverings should be worn in classrooms by staff and those in Year 7 and above unless social distancing can be maintained.

The best available scientific evidence is that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of COVID-19 droplets in certain circumstances, helping to protect others.

We have worked closely with Public Health England to consider a range of evidence, balancing both the health and educational considerations. This includes the latest public health advice, the most recent scientific evidence, as well as stakeholder intelligence gathered by the Department on the experiences of face covering use in classrooms.

The latest data on testing, outbreaks in schools and Office for National Statistics data on COVID-19 infections and population prevalence that was considered is information that is publicly available and can be found here:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/973176/Weekly_COVID-19_and_Influenza_Surveillance_Graphs_W12.pdf https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/covid19schoolsinfectionsurveyround2england/december2020

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/coronaviruscovid19infectionsurveypilot/26march2021#age-analysis-of-the-number-of-people-who-had-covid-19

The decision to continue with this additional measure is a cautious approach that will help limit the risk of transmission. The Department will seek to remove face coverings at the first safe opportunity given the negative impact they may have on communication in the classroom.

It is expected that face coverings will no longer be required to be worn in classrooms, or by pupils in other communal areas, at step 3 of the roadmap, which will be no earlier than 17 May. At this point, the next stage of easements, including increased social contact indoors, will be confirmed following a review of the latest data on infection and vaccination rates.