Facemasks become part of school uniform

Parents of pupils returning to school next week will have to provide face-coverings as part of the uniform.

Fulwood Academy is buying in face masks along with other PPE
Fulwood Academy is buying in face masks along with other PPE

Headteachers will have the power to decide when and where secondary school pupils need to wear face masks- except in Preston where they will be mandatory in all but classrooms.

New government guidance says secondary school pupils should wear face coverings in communal areas such as corridors and libraries and where they can't safely social distance.

But, they are not necessary in the classroom and the decision as to whether masks need to be worn is being left up to individual headteachers.

Sean Bullen deputy CEO of the Fylde Cost Academy Trust

However, for pupils in hotspots in local lockdown, including Preston, masks in communal areas will be compulsory from next week.

And, although Lancashire County Council says parents" should provide" the masks, many schools say they are already making use of PPE budgets and stockpiling to cope with demand.

A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: " As an extra precautionary measure, face coverings should be worn in communal areas in schools that are in areas subject to local restrictions by staff and pupils over the age of 11.

"Government guidance confirms that face coverings should not be worn in classrooms.

"Some pupils will be exempt from wearing face coverings due to specific needs and difficulties. Parents and carers will need to provide the face coverings."

It is understood that teachers are confident pupils will stick to the policy, which will be explained to them in groups when school re-starts

One teacher said: " This will become the new reality."

Fulwood Academy is among the schools which pre-empted the move and decided to get in supplies ahead of the Black Bull Lane school re-opening and will be providing pupils with masks.

Principal Dave Lancaster said: "The school has already purchased a large number of disposable face masks. While our hope is that our students will have their own reusable masks, we will help them out if they forget them or need us to provide one.

"We have also been incredibly proud of how our students have dealt with the pandemic. They have acted with integrity and maturity throughout. All the staff will be advised on how to support students if they arrive at the school without a mask, or if it breaks during the day."

And in Blackpool the Fylde Coast Academy Trust has decided that face-coverings will be worn in busy secondary school communal areas - but not classrooms.

Sean Bullen , deputy CEO of FCAT said: " We have decided to take this position, whilst respecting the positions of other schools and trusts as it seems the most reassuring approach to take.

"Our secondary headteachers will be communicating our expectations with parents/carers and students and the phased return of our secondary students next week will help this to take place.

"We will continue to review our position dependant on further government guidance."

The move has been largely welcomed by teaching unions, who have called for greater clarity on headteacher discretion.

A spokesman for the National Education Union said: "We welcome the steps now being taken, but it is a halfway house to pass the decision to head teachers.

There has to be a science-led approach from the top. It might be that face masks in communal areas are a good thing in parts of the country with high transmission, it might be that they are not as necessary in areas of low transmission. The Government needs to decide on that and give clear guidance to school leaders. "

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, which had called on the Government to keep its advice under review, said: “The new policy is discretionary, other than in places where coronavirus restrictions apply, and secondary school and college leaders will welcome the flexibility this affords them to decide what best suits their circumstances."

UNISON North West has called for a change in government guidance to allow all school support staff to wear face coverings if they want.

Head of education Jon Richards said: "The focus on pupils is understandable but the government has already admitted the biggest risk in schools is to staff.

"School staff who work closely with pupils, and move between classes and bubbles, have particular challenges.

"Schools should recognise these issues and allow those who want to wear coverings to do so."

The advice will also apply to further education colleges and will be reflected in guidance to universities.

Parents have also been told to warn their children of the dangers of sharing pens and school books ahead of a return to the classroom.

Health and safety experts from CE Safety say parents should prepare their children for the realities of post lockdown schooling by making sure they know about personal hygiene, social distancing in and outside the classroom and travelling to and from school.