Now masks have been compulsory in most indoor public spaces for over a month across the UK, many people are wondering how the new guidelines will affect pupils and their teachers when schools start to go back from late August.
Questions such as, ‘will children be wearing face masks at school?’ have been continually raised since the prime minister announced that the priority was getting children back into standard education, following over five months of lockdown.
Earlier in the week it was revealed that 97 per cent of schools would be opening their doors again, with headteachers and politicians alike quick to reassure parents and pupils that it was safe to go back.
So to try and minimise the potential spread of COVID-19 in schools as children are now beginning to return, last week Scotland announced that as part of a series of back to school safety measures, children in secondary school would be required to wear face masks during the school day.
READ MORE: When do pupils in England go back to school?
It follows new advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which suggests that all children over the age of 12 should wear face masks in line with the same guidance given to adults.
Previously, it was thought that children were less susceptible to the virus than adults but recent research has revealed that teenagers infect others in the same way that adults do.
So as of August 31, secondary school pupils in Scotland will be required to wear face masks in schools. But what about the rest of the country? Who has to wear a face mask and why?
Do children have to wear face masks at secondary school in the UK?
After a U-turn by the government on the issue, it has been announced that secondary school pupils will have to wear face masks in crowded areas of schools, where social distancing can’t be maintained. But only in local lockdown areas in the UK, as the risk of infection is considered to be higher in these areas.
Following Scotland’s announcement, Northern Ireland’s Education Minister Peter Weir said the new measure would come into effect in schools from August 31. While pupils and staff in Wales are currently waiting to hear whether face masks are being made compulsory in schools, as the health minister confirmed yesterday that he wanted all changes to the guidelines to be made before schools went back next Tuesday.
But under the new changes, head teachers at any secondary school across the country will be able to ask both staff and students to wear one if they decide it’s necessary, in line with guidance from the Department of Education.
The new rules, which come into play in England from September 1, also suggest that if rates of coronavirus increase across the country then there will be stricter guidelines that could force children all around the country to wear face masks in school.
It’s still important, however, that if children or teachers begin to develop symptoms of coronavirus that they and members of their household stay at home and self-isolate, and get a test if necessary.
At what age do children have to wear face masks?
The new advice published by WHO, which has informed the decision to make face masks compulsory in lockdown areas, covers three different age groups. Currently, only children in UK secondary schools aged 12 or over will be required to wear face masks.
For those aged between six and 11 years old, it depends on other factors such as the rate of virus transmission and whether the child is coming into contact with high-risk individuals. WHO has also stressed that adult supervision for this age group is necessary, to help children take off and put on their masks securely.
Children under the age of five are not required to wear face masks in any environment.
Do teachers have to wear face masks?
The same rules apply to teachers, as with WHO says, “In areas where there is widespread transmission, all adults under the age of 60 and who are in general good health should wear fabric masks when they cannot guarantee at least a one-metre distance from others.”
“This is particularly important for adults working with children who may have close contact with children and one another.”
Where do children have to wear masks in school?
While face masks will have to be worn by everyone in corridors and other spaces where it is difficult to maintain social distancing, it is ultimately up to the schools to decide where this will be, based on “their particular circumstances”.
The Department of Education has no plans to make face masks mandatory at secondary schools outside local lockdown locations, however.
What are other countries doing?
While the change in guidelines may seem quick for those of us in the UK, rules about wearing masks in schools elsewhere in Europe have long since been in place.
Children and teachers in France will all have to wear face masks, even when a distance of one metre can be enforced, which means that masks will be worn as teachers are taking lessons.
In Italy, classes will be taken outdoors where possible and teachers will have to wear face masks and shields. Students will also have to wear masks and a distance of one metre will be maintained at all times, meaning that class sizes will be smaller.
For those over the age of six in Spain, masks will be compulsory on all school transport and will be required for students and teachers at all times where a 1.5 metre distance can’t be maintained.
The rules are a little more relaxed in Germany, with some states making wearing face masks compulsory at school for children and others not.
While in the Netherlands, it has not been made compulsory to wear face masks but some schools are doing so out of choice.