Face masks are to be worn in classrooms in secondary schools across Gedling borough to reduce the spread of the Omicron variant, the government has announced.
The temporary reintroduction of face coverings has been introduced across England following concerns about schools remaining open for face-to-face learning this coming term.
Schools across the UK are re-opening after the Christmas break over the next week, with pupils being asked to take part in onsite Covid testing.
Some individual schools and local authorities in England had already required masks in classrooms.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi today announced the change and said face coverings would be required until January 26.
This is when the current national Plan B Covid measures run out, although they will be reviewed on or close to January 4.
He said: “There is no doubt that the Omicron variant presents challenges but the entire education sector has responded with a Herculean effort, and for that I thank each and every one of you.
“The prime minister and I have been clear that education is our number one priority. These measures will bolster our support to schools as we do everything in our power to minimise disruption.”
The government also announced it would be making 7,000 air cleaning units available to early years settings, schools and colleges.
Staff absences and rising Covid rates at the end of last term – caused by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant – have led to fears of further disruption to education.
The four main teaching unions covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland – ASCL, NAHT, NEU and NASUWT – plus the GMB and Unison, have issued a joint statement calling for urgent steps to help schools.
“We need the minimum amount of educational disruption this term in order to avoid a third successive year where GCSEs, A-levels and other exams have to be cancelled, and thereby removing the uncertainty and additional workload for students and teachers,” it says.
“It is essential, therefore, that the government takes immediate and urgent steps to mitigate the risk of Covid transmission and that it provides more support to minimise disruption in schools and colleges.”
General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers Paul Whiteman said reintroducing face masks in secondary classrooms was a sensible move, but that more should be done.
He said: “Where schools need air filtration units to improve areas of poor ventilation, they should be provided with them, without delay.”
He welcomed the 7,000 new units but said “adequate ventilation in classrooms should not be limited to first come, first served”.
The process by which schools can obtain these units is due to be set out by the DfE shortly.