Schools are set to re-open on March 8, but classrooms will look very different.
Government guidance will require all secondary school pupils to wear face masks in classrooms at least for a "limited time”.
Even before the third lockdown began on January 5, secondary school pupils were required to wear face coverings when walking in corridors, but now at least for the "initial weeks" after students return to the classroom, they’ll be expected to wear in during lessons as well.
A statement from the Department for Education said: “Staff, pupils and students in secondary schools, colleges and universities are advised to wear face coverings in all indoor areas where social distancing can't be maintained, as an extra precaution, including classrooms.
“This will be reviewed at Easter.”
That will mean pupils wearing face coverings for most of the day, with mealtimes being the only real exception.
As yet, teachers say have not been given clear guidance on whether they will have to wear masks, with some expressing concerns that it will be hard to communicate clearly during lessons.
Buried on page 33 of the new guidelines, the government guidance states "The Government also recommends that the use of face coverings in Higher Education, Further Education and secondary schools is extended for a limited period to all indoor environments – including classrooms – unless 2m social distancing can be maintained."
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The document continues: "Face coverings are now also recommended in early years and primary schools for staff and adult visitors in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible, for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas. All children will once again be expected to attend school, as they were in the autumn term."
The National Deaf Children's Society has questioned the new rule, saying it will make life almost impossible for children that rely on lip reading to replace or supplement their hearing.
Ian Noon, the organisation's head of policy, told the Daily Mirror: “With England’s 35,000 deaf pupils close to a return to education, the goalposts on face masks have moved yet again.
"Public health must take priority," he added, "but bringing face masks into classrooms will have a devastating effect on deaf children’s studies, mental health and ability to take part in lessons.
One primary school teacher, Emma Stanley, pointed out that the rule seemed somewhat arbitrary.
She tweeted: “So 11 year olds in secondary will be wearing masks in classrooms, but 11 year olds in Year 6, who sit in the same room all day, won't be? “
In the US, a study from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) said that school teachers and staff could be playing a “central role” in transmitting Covid-19 within schools where social distancing and face covering precautions aren’t enforced.
The CDC added that prioritising teachers for vaccination could help return students to the classroom safely.
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