Children in Year 7 and above should wear face masks in communal areas in schools and colleges as part of measures to slow the spread of the Omicron Covid variant, the Department for Education has said.
Under the new guidance, all staff, visitors and pupils in Year 7 – the first year of secondary school – or above, are “strongly advised” to wear a face covering, unless exempt.
The measures will come into effect on Monday and will be reviewed in three weeks, the Department said in a statement on Sunday evening.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “The news of a new variant – the so-called Omicron variant – will have understandably caused concern for people across our country, including our teachers, wider education and childcare staff, parents, pupils and students.
“We are already taking targeted and proportionate action as a precaution while we find out more information about the new variant.
“As we do so, we will continue to prioritise children’s and young people’s education and wellbeing, making sure education and childcare settings are as safe as possible and children continue to benefit from classroom teaching.”
Students in Year 7 or above should also continue to wear face coverings on public and dedicated school transport, unless they are exempt, the DfE said. Staff and students should continue to be encouraged to test themselves twice a week using lateral flow tests.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it supports the measures “as a sensible response to the risks posed by the Omicron variant of Covid-19”.
But he added: “This worrying situation, however, emphasises the need for better support from the Government for the education sector.”
It follows the news that a third Omicron infection has been discovered in the UK. The individual, who is no longer in the country, visited central London while they were infectious.
Health officials said they had been in Westminster in central London and the infection was “linked to travel to southern Africa”.
As part of measures to stem the spread of the variant, the Government has also made face coverings mandatory on public transport and in shops.