Nationally, infection rates for COVID-19 are low. This is reflected in Northumberland where case rates have remained low for some time and cases in our schools have also declined. The government has announced that it is continuing to lift some restrictions in line with Step 3 of the roadmap and as part of this, new guidance on face coverings in education has been published. The changes apply from 17th May 2021.
Pupils in secondary schools (including middle and special schools)
Face coverings in schools will no longer be recommended for pupils in classrooms or communal areas in all schools. However, where social distancing cannot be maintained outside of classrooms, for example, when moving around in corridors, we would still recommend the use of face coverings. Exemplar risk assessments can be found here.
Staff across all educational settings
Face coverings will no longer be recommended for staff in classrooms. However, in all schools we continue to recommend that face coverings should be worn by staff and visitors in situations outside of classrooms where social distancing is not possible (for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas). We are still recommending that parents are encouraged to wear face coverings at pick up and drop off times.
Delivering education and training, including extra-curricular activities and wraparound childcare in a community setting
Where schools are delivering education and training, including extra-curricular activities and wraparound childcare, in a community setting (for example, library or community centre), staff and pupils will be exempt from the legal requirement to wear a face covering if they are in a private room or the premises has been exclusively hired for the sole use of its pupils and staff.
Early years settings
The guidance for face coverings in early years has not changed. Actions for early years and childcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic states: “In early years settings, we recommend that face coverings should be worn by staff and adults (including visitors) in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible (for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas). Children in early years settings should not wear face coverings.”
Continuation of other control measures
It is important to remember that while there is much attention on face coverings the existing control measures including good ventilation, handwashing, social distancing and twice weekly testing remain hugely important to stop the spread of COVID-19. Implementing the system of controls, creates a safer environment for pupils and staff where the risk of transmission of infection is substantially reduced and schools should regularly review risk assessments. It is essential that schools continue to follow the Operational Guidance.
Children and young people aged 11 and over must still wear a face covering on public transport. In accordance with advice from Public Health England, they must also wear a face covering when travelling on dedicated transport to secondary school or college.
Local public health surveillance
Despite the change in guidance for schools and further education, discretion may be needed in certain situations, for example, in settings with outbreaks, where there is an increase in local case rates or where variants of concern have been identified in our communities. Northumberland County Council will continue to monitor and review local information on COVID-19 case rates and may recommend the reintroduction of face coverings as an additional public health measure should any of these situations occur.