Secondary schools to start term wearing masks in classrooms
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Secondary school pupils in England will once again be asked to wear masks in classrooms when they return for the new term.
The government announcement comes days before the new term resumes in a bid to limit the threat to their educations posed by the Omicron variant.
The measures are scheduled to be in place until January 26, when Plan B regulations are scheduled to expire, and will be reviewed.
Schools in the region navigated a range of enhanced measures throughout November and December with face masks reintroduced in communal areas.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said the group supported the reintroduction of masks in classrooms.
Mr Barton, former headteacher of the King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, said: “While there are obvious drawbacks to the use of face coverings in classrooms, it is clear that the Omicron variant poses a very significant additional risk to education with the potential for further widespread disruption of schools, colleges, and young people.
“It is absolutely essential that everything possible is done to reduce transmission and ensure that children remain in school, and we therefore support the reintroduction of face coverings in classrooms for students in year 7 and above.
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“Face coverings are already advised in communal areas for pupils in year 7 and above. Pupils are accustomed to their use and we are sure the reintroduction of face coverings in classrooms is something that schools and colleges will take in their stride.”
Last term Suffolk County Council introduced a new three tier protocol advising schools on actions to take if they saw Covid cases creeping up.
The Department of Education will also provide 7,000 more air cleaning units to schools, colleges and early learning settings to improve ventilation.
On Saturday evening, six educational trade unions urged the government to offer improved financial support to schools and colleges for the costs of supply staff to cover for Covid-related absences.
Mr Barton warned that disruption to staffing levels caused by the Omicron variant could mean some classes and year groups are forced to learn from home.
“All of this is a recognition by the Government that the spring term will be extremely challenging for schools and colleges,” he said.
“The biggest problem they face is the likelihood of high levels of staff absence caused by the prevalence of the Omicron variant.
“While schools and colleges will do their very best to minimise the impact on pupils, as they always do, there is a possibility that this will mean that some classes and year groups have to be sent home for short periods of time to learn remotely.”