Face coverings could be axed for secondary school pupils in class

Face coverings will still be required when moving through communal areas.

Face coverings could be axed for secondary school pupils in class iStock

Headteachers have welcomed draft guidance which would see the need for secondary school children to wear face coverings in classrooms dropped.

But teachers have slammed the plans as “premature” saying it is “reckless” a surge in Covid-19 in education settings.

Ending the requirement for masks while in class is among several changes which would see restrictions eased in schools as more than a third of 12 to 15-year-olds in Scotland have received the coronavirus vaccine.

Face coverings will still be required when moving through communal areas and on school transport.

Pupils who want to wear masks in class will still be able to do so.

Staff will have to continue to maintain 1m physical distancing from other adults and will have to wear face coverings if they are unable to do so, such as when helping children with additional support needs.

The draft guidance, seen by STV News, was issued to stakeholders on Friday and is expected to be published this week.

The changes, which could also see the return of large assemblies and in-person parents’ nights, are to be implemented following the October holidays.

The requirement for one-way systems, staggered lunchtimes will also be dropped.

In September, Nicola Sturgeon said all current mitigations, including the use of face coverings by pupils in secondary school classrooms and the one-metre distance rule between staff members and adults and pupils would remain in schools until at least the October break.

School Leaders Scotland, which represents headteachers, their deputies and principal teachers, said it welcomed the planned changes having previously called for masks to be kept in place.

Jim Thewliss, the organisation’s general secretary, told STV News that the offering of vaccines to all teaching staff and the momentum in uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine among young people meant it was now possible to ease the mitigations.

“Being able to teach without face masks improves the experience for learners,” he said, “We’re comfortable with that.

“We are moving gently and progressively along the lines of a better learning environment, but working within the realm of cautiousness.”

“We’ve been under the regime of mitigations for quite some time, what were starting to do now is to move to a position… when mitigations are stood down, it’s very easy to put it back in place.

The changes will also give schools more “professional autonomy to look at what’s best for its young people”, Mr Thewliss said, meaning those with larger assembly halls being able to have more pupils together.

But teaching representatives of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said Scotland should avoid following in England’s footsteps by dropping the safety measures.

Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT’s general secretary, said: “It is premature to remove current safety mitigations in schools and reckless to risk a further surge in cases which would cause further disruption to children’s education.

“No evidence has been presented to show that the current mitigations are having a deleterious effect on learning and the focus at this time should be to continue to do everything possible to reduce further disruption to pupils’ education.

“With the further threat of increased respiratory illness during the winter, maintaining caution on covid safety should remain an absolute priority for the government and employers at this time.”

The Scottish Conservatives said the removal of masks in classrooms was a “crucial step” in returning learning to normal.

Shadow education secretary Oliver Mundell MSP said: “Key stakeholders, like School Leaders Scotland will be reassured that the SNP Government finally appear to have realised that wearing a mask in classrooms is disruptive to pupil’s learning, as well as being out of kilter with restrictions in other areas.

“These concerns have been repeatedly raised by the Scottish Conservatives since July.

“The proposed changes to mask wearing, and the return of parent evenings are a welcome move. The SNP must now outline a route map for the removal of the remaining mitigations in our schools, so our young people can return to normal learning as soon as possible.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The government’s decision to ease school mitigations is informed by the views of a number of stakeholders.

“This includes the expert advice and agreement of the Covid Education Recovery Group, which is made up of representatives drawn from across the education sector. In reaching a decision, it is vital that their views are considered.

“The cabinet secretary will consider this advice and intends to make an announcement with further updates on school safety mitigations, as soon as possible – as already set out by the First Minister.”