Will pupils and staff have to wear face coverings in independent schools?

At Strathallan School in Scotland, all pupils have been given a welcome pack that includes a school-branded washable face covering

The wearing of face coverings has become a widely discussed topic, especially as schools have reopened for the autumn term.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said children aged 12 and over should wear a face covering under the same conditions as adults, particularly when they cannot guarantee a one metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.

In England the government has said face coverings are not necessary in schools, but any secondary school can choose to introduce them in communal areas if they believe it is right for their particular circumstances. In local lockdown areas, face coverings in school corridors and communal areas will be required.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said he hopes these measures will “provide parents, pupils and teachers with further reassurance”.

There is also flexibility in Wales as the decision of whether to introduce face coverings is being left with schools and councils, although the government has recommended wearing them in communal areas.

However, for pupils and staff in Scotland and Northern Ireland’s secondary schools face coverings are now mandatory in corridors and communal areas.

Across the UK face coverings are not required in classrooms as distancing measures are already in place.

Face coverings in independent schools

Independent schools are following government guidance, with some erring on the side of caution even if face coverings have not been made mandatory in their area. Some schools have even provided pupils with school-branded face coverings as an extension of their uniform.

At Strathallan School in Perth pupils received a welcome pack on arrival that included a bottle of hand sanitiser, a washable face mask (pictured above), a QR code for a virtual tour around the school’s Covid-safe campus and a pupil handbook explaining further Covid-safe regulations.

Headmaster Mark Lauder said the wearing of masks was “sensible”.

“Given the need to mitigate the risk of transmission of Covid-19, wearing face masks seems a sensible additional step for staff and pupils to take when social distancing is harder to maintain in communal spaces,” he said.

“The adult-to-adult transmission of the disease seems to be key in localised spikes of the virus and older pupils may have a greater risk in this respect than younger ones given global trends so far, but as evidence is still in its early stages it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“Our plans for returning to school already include giving each pupil and staff member a washable face mask and this is certainly is a move that parents have supported, and pupils appreciate. Staff have taken reassurance from this as well.”

Wearing face masks seems a sensible additional step for staff and pupils to take when social distancing is harder to maintain in communal spaces – Mark Lauder, headmaster, Strathallan School

At Rydal Penrhos in Colwyn Bay, it has been decided that face coverings must be worn in certain areas of the school. Head of Rydal Penrhos prep school, Lucy Davies, said they will go “above and beyond government advice” to ensure people feel safe.

“Rydal Penrhos has taken the advice of the Welsh Government and implemented a full school buildings survey to work out which areas limit the ability to maintain social distancing. As a result of this several areas of the school site have been identified as areas where face coverings must be worn,” said Davies.

“These include corridor and other walk-through areas in senior school. All senior school pupils have therefore been advised that it will be necessary to bring a well-fitting face mask to school every day. All staff, both prep and senior, will also need to wear face coverings in these areas.

“Face coverings are already mandatory on school transport and are encouraged for any pupil or staff who is anxious and feels they would like to wear a face covering for all activities except dining and PE.

“Rydal Penrhos values every pupil and staff member and goes above and beyond government advice in order to ensure that every member of the school community feels as safe as possible.”

‘We will remain flexible and adaptable’

The headmaster of Bryanston School in Blandford Forum said although masks won’t be compulsory at the school, pupils who wish to wear them will have the school’s full support.

“In line with the Government’s most recent update, the wearing of face coverings at Bryanston will not be made compulsory,” said Mark Mortimer.

“However, all pupils have been asked to return with a number of face coverings, so that we are prepared should the guidance change. We are well aware that some pupils will wish to wear face coverings and these pupils will have our full support.

“As well as following government guidance, we continue to work with the school doctor in order to ensure that any decision made is in the best interests of our pupils and staff. We are confident in the safety procedures we have in place for the new term but remain flexible and adaptable in our approach.”

Zoë King, deputy head (pastoral) at the Royal Hospital School in Suffolk, said the school will also remain flexible.

We want to be flexible with our staff and student population because it’s going to be a difficult time for all – Zoë King, deputy head (pastoral), Royal Hospital School 

“We had the approach prior to the Government’s new announcement that if pupils and staff wished to wear face coverings they could, as we wanted people to feel confident and safe.

“We ask that our staff wear visors during teaching so pupils can see their facial expressions, which we think will be easier for some people that suffer with hearing loss and for some of our international pupils.

“We want to be flexible with our staff and student population because it’s going to be a difficult time for all and the more measures we can put in place to demonstrate the school as a safe environment and to demonstrate that we are mitigating risk of transmission wherever possible has to be a positive going forward.”

At Rockport School in Holywood, all staff and pupils are required to carry a face covering, provided by the school, and they will be worn where a one metre distance is not possible.

While staff have been encouraged not to complete any ‘elbow teaching’ (where teachers provide close one-to-one support over the shoulder or at the elbow of the student), where it is required face coverings must be worn by staff and pupils. Face coverings may also be required during ICT, home economics and music lessons, as well as in the school office.

Related news: Almost half a million UK pupils could refuse to return to school

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