Headteachers will now be given the discretion over whether to enforce the wearing of face masks for students. The government will no longer advise against their use. The Prime Minister had previously suggested that students should not have to wear face masks.
However, the wearing of face coverings is understood to become mandatory in schools that lie in areas subject to stricter coronavirus restrictions.
This is likely to be the case for areas like Greater Manchester – because of more strict lockdown conditions.
The face coverings will be worn in school corridors where social distancing is more difficult.
Boris Johnson’s sudden U-turn has caused a backlash with some Conservative MPs.
On the change of policy about wearing face coverings in schools, Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson said: “Our priority is to get children back to school safely.
“At each stage, we have listened to the latest medical and scientific advice. We have therefore decided to follow the World Health Organisation’s new advice.
“In local lockdown areas, children in year 7 and above should wear face coverings in communal spaces.
“Outside of local lockdown areas face coverings won’t be required in schools, though schools will have the flexibility to introduce measures if they believe it is right in their specific circumstances.
“I hope these steps will provide parents, pupils and teachers with further reassurance.”
Kate Green, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “Parents and schools needed clarity and leadership, but instead the government have just passed the buck back to them.
“Face coverings should be compulsory in communal areas in schools.
“Instead of this half baked U-turn, the government should have given clear guidance and a plan to deliver it.”
Speaking yesterday Mr Johnson said: “All our scientific advice is that schools are safe, it’s absolutely crucial people understand that.
“The overwhelming priority is to get all pupils into school.
“And I think that the schools, the teachers, they’ve all done a fantastic job of getting ready and the risk to children’s health, the risk to children’s wellbeing from not being in school is far greater than the risk from COVID.
“If there are things we have to do to vary the advice on medical grounds, we will, of course, do that.
“But as the chief medical officer, all our scientific advisers have said, schools are safe.”