Boris Johnson has hinted at a U-turn on guidance that face-coverings do not need to be worn by pupils in English schools, saying: “If we need to change the advice then of course we will.”
The comment came as the prime minister came under growing pressure to mandate the use of masks when schools return next week, after Scotland announced its pupils will wear face-coverings in common areas from Monday.
Headteachers are urging Westminster to review its policy, while the Welsh government has asked its scientific advisers to “revisit the evidence” today.
Students in England and Wales are set to resume lessons on Tuesday but the government’s advice does not include the use of face masks, despite their being mandatory in other settings.
Wearing face masks will be mandatory in Scottish secondary schools, Holyrood’s education secretary John Swinney has said.
In England, a headteachers’ union has said that while “evidence is clearly evolving on this issue”, Westminster should keep in step with the World Health Organisation and Scotland.
It comes amid fears that immunity from coronavirus may last only a few months, after the world’s first re-infected patient was discovered in Hong Kong. The man fought off one strain of Covid-19 only to catch a second four months later.
Boris Johnson’s government is considering a plan to advise secondary schools to operate a “rota system” to reduce the number of pupils in classes if a local spike in Covid-19 infections leads to renewed lockdown restrictions, The Independent reports.
One option under discussion would be for some secondary year groups to attend school on certain weeks, before switching with other year groups. Primary schools would be expected to remain fully open in the event of a local lockdown, since transmission rates are lower in younger children.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) union, said he was “frustrated” it has taken so long to begin discussing the possibilities with the Department of Education (DfE) given the “imminent” reopening of schools. Headteachers in England are urging the government to set out “clear” rules on what happens if there is an outbreak of coronavirus either inside their school or in the local area.