With schools due to reopen next week, the government did a u-turn on face coverings for staff and children in Year 7 and above, saying they will not be required besides in local lockdown areas.
However, schools will have the discretion to require them to be worn in communal areas if they believe it is right in the particular circumstances.
On Tuesday morning cabinet minister Alok Sharma had said there were no plans to review the policy amid pressure from headteachers, but later the same day education secretary Gavin Williamson defended the government’s u-turn.
It will not be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom, where protective measures already mean the risks are lower and where they inhibit learning.
However, according to The Sun there have been some concerns from teachers who warned that pupils may bully each other for their choice of face mask.
The government will also advise additional measures are taken in areas where the transmission of the virus is high.
In these areas, face coverings should be worn by adults and pupils in secondary schools when moving around the school, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain.
Extra guidance on face coverings for all education settings will be published soon and come into effect from September 1.
The government revised its guidance as a result of a new statement from the World Health Organisation.
WHO advise that: “Children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Our priority is to get children back to school safely. At each stage we have listened to the latest medical and scientific advice. We have therefore decided to follow the World Health Organisation’s new advice.
“In local lockdown areas children in Year 7 and above should wear face coverings in communal spaces.
“Outside of local lockdown areas face coverings won’t be required in schools, though schools will have the flexibility to introduce measures if they believe it is right in their specific circumstances.
“I hope these steps will provide parents, pupils and teachers with further reassurance.
“Consistent with WHO’s advice, if the rate of transmission increases across the whole country, it may be necessary to apply stricter guidance on face coverings in schools nationally.
“This is not necessary at the moment but the government will keep the evidence on transmission under constant review.”