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Face coverings no longer required in schools and colleges from 17 May 2021

Facemasks in a pile

Face coverings no longer required in schools and colleges from 17 May 2021

  • Decision confirmed by PM as part of step 3 of the roadmap
  • Face coverings will no longer have to be worn in classrooms or communal areas by pupils
  • Infections in schools continue to decrease in line with community transmission

Pupils will no longer be required to wear face coverings in schools and colleges from 17 May, the Prime Minister has confirmed. Today (10 May), the Government announced the withdrawal from Monday (17 May) of the requirement for face coverings to be worn in school classrooms. All remaining university students will be eligible to return to in-person teaching and learning from 17 May 2021, and should get tested twice a week upon return.

In a press conference this afternoon, the Prime Minister announced that the country’s roadmap out of lockdown is on track and step 3 will go ahead as planned on 17 May.

The latest data shows infection rates continuing to decrease, deaths and hospitalisations at their lowest level since July, and the vaccine rollout continuing at pace.

In line with this data, pupils will no longer be required to wear face coverings in the classroom or communal areas in schools and colleges. This will improve interaction between teachers and students, ensuring the clearest possible communication to support learning.  

Transmission of the virus in schools continues to decrease in line with wider community transmission, with the latest statistics showing a significant drop in the number of teachers and staff testing positive.

The decision has taken into consideration the latest scientific evidence, medical advice and stakeholder feedback on the impacts of wearing face coverings in schools and colleges.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“Step three of the Roadmap allows people to mix indoors once again and in line with the latest data, we no longer need to recommend that face coverings are worn in the classroom.

“Over the past year we have always put the wellbeing of pupils and staff first, and this step is now the right one, as vaccinations protect the most vulnerable in society and we turn our attention to building back better from the pandemic.

“Testing in schools and colleges continues to be important, so I urge all students, families and teachers to keep testing themselves twice weekly, to help reduce the risk of transmission.”

John Simpson, Head of Public Health Advice, Guidance and Expertise Pillar (PHAGE) at Public Health England, said:

“Scientific studies show that COVID-19 transmission in schools remains low.

“This evidence has been reviewed alongside criteria for the wider easing of restrictions.

“It’s important to strike a balance between COVID-19 protection and student wellbeing and the guidance on face coverings for secondary school pupils has been kept under constant review.

“Existing control measures in schools including good ventilation, handwashing, social distancing where possible and twice weekly testing remain hugely important.”

Children’s Commissioner Rachel de Souza, said:

“The reopening of schools for all children has been so important and a real success, and I have been pleased to see so many children return to the classroom.

“I am glad that the government has made the decision to remove face coverings in schools for pupils, based on the latest scientific advice. Wearing a mask during lessons has been one of many sacrifices children have made over the last year in our fight against the pandemic and I know they will welcome this latest step towards a return to normal school life.”

The recommendation to wear face coverings in classrooms was introduced as a precautionary, temporary measure at a time where rates of coronavirus were high in the community, the school and college regular testing regime was about to begin, and the vaccine programme was in its early stages.

All other protective measures such as ventilation and social distancing where possible will remain in place and regular rapid testing will continue to help find and isolate asymptomatic cases when they do occur.

Staff are not required to wear face coverings in the classroom but should continue to wear them in communal areas such as the staff room, where social distancing may not be possible.

Today’s updated guidance on how schools should operate from step 3 of the roadmap also confirms that from 17 May, new residential educational visits can take place within the UK.

The Department recommends schools and colleges do not plan for international visits to take place up to and including 5 September, recognising the logistical difficulties that will remain in place this academic year regarding overseas travel with groups of children. The position beyond 5 September will be reviewed in advance of Step 4.

All measures in place for schools and colleges are kept under review based on the latest scientific and medical advice.

The National Deaf Children’s Society (@NDCS_UK) has welcomed the Government’s announcement that face masks will no longer be recommended anywhere in school and college for pupils in England from Monday, May 17th 2021. They will also not be recommended for staff in classrooms.

Ian Noon, Head of Policy at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: 

“Today’s announcement will mean thousands of deaf children and young people can breathe a huge sigh of relief. For more than a year, they’ve struggled against isolation, loneliness and inaccessible online lessons, only to be hit with a whole new set of challenges caused by face masks when they returned to school.

“Public health must always be the priority, but deaf young people have repeatedly told us that face masks left them seriously struggling to socialise, understand their teacher and maintain their mental health during what was an extremely challenging period of their lives.

“Taking face masks out of classrooms and highlighting the benefits of transparent ones are both signs of real progress. Hopefully this heralds a new dawn for deaf children and young people, where they can be confident that their needs will now be considered whenever major decisions are made.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“Creating the confidence that this next step is the right thing to do is essential to avoid an unnecessary shock to a system in recovery.

“Parents, pupils and staff will want to understand why removing the requirement for face coverings in classrooms is considered appropriate when it is not for other enclosed spaces.”


John Foster, CBI Director of Policy, said:

“It’s encouraging to see the roadmap remains on track, with the certainty it’s provided businesses so far already appearing evident in recent economic data. And universities and students alike will also be relieved by the return to in-person teaching from next week.

“Meanwhile, the Government can inject further momentum into the recovery by providing companies with clarity on outstanding issues, including social distancing, covid status certificates and the future of workplace testing beyond June 21.

“Getting answers will help business cement the gains so far, laying strong foundations for the recovery, and support the planned full reopening of the economy without delay.”

Removing the need for masks in schools “too much, too soon”, says UNISON

Commenting on the announcement today (Monday) that the government will no longer recommend the use of face coverings in secondary schools and colleges, UNISON head of education Jon Richards said:

“This is a case of too much, too soon. Everyone wants to get back to normality, but any change has to happen safely. Otherwise, all the care taken over the past few months in schools could be undone.

“Face masks will still be needed in other indoor spaces like shops, restaurants and cinemas. Schools and colleges shouldn’t be treated any differently. 

“New virus variants are out in the community. Yet despite repeated requests ministers have failed to reveal the extent of the new strains in schools. Pupils, parents and staff deserve much better.”

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