Do teachers have to wear face masks in school?


All schools in England are going back from 8 March, the prime minister has confirmed, with schools able to decide a phased return during that week. When schools return, face masks will be recommended to be worn in some secondary classrooms.

The Department for Education (DfE) has advised to “wear face coverings indoors, including classrooms, where social distancing cannot be maintained”.

Staff in secondary schools and colleges are “being advised to wear face coverings in all areas, including classrooms, where social distancing cannot be maintained, as a temporary extra measure”.

These measures will be in place until Easter. As with all measures, the DfE explains it will keep it under review and update guidance at that point.

In this article, we provide a summary of the DfE’s ‘Schools coronavirus operational guidance’ which has been updated in February 2021.

Teachers wearing face masks: what does the guidance say?

Secondary schools

The DfE explains where pupils in year 7 and above are educated, it recommends that face coverings should be worn by adults (school staff) and pupils when moving around the premises, outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained. Face coverings do not need to be worn by pupils when outdoors on the premises.

In addition, the DfE now also recommends that face coverings should be worn in classrooms or during activities unless social distancing can be maintained. This does not apply in situations where wearing a face covering would impact on the ability to take part in exercise or strenuous activity, for example in PE lessons.

Primary schools

In primary schools, the DfE recommends that face coverings should be worn by staff and adult visitors in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible (for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas). 

Children in primary school do not need to wear a face covering.

Transparent face coverings

Transparent face coverings, which may assist communication with someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate, can also be worn.

Those who rely on visual signals for communication, or communicate with or provide support to such individuals, are currently exempt from any requirement to wear face coverings in schools or in public places.

Face visors 

Face visors or shields should not be worn as an alternative to face coverings. They may protect against droplet spread in specific circumstances but are unlikely to be effective in reducing aerosol transmission when used without an additional face covering.

They should only be used after carrying out a risk assessment for the specific situation and should always be cleaned appropriately.

Exemptions on wearing facemasks

The DfE explains some individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings. This applies to those who: 

  • Cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical impairment or disability, illness or mental health difficulties 
  • Speak to or provide help to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate

The same exemptions will apply in education and childcare settings and schools should be sensitive to those needs, noting that some people are less able to wear face coverings and that the reasons for this may not be visible to others.

Safe wearing and removal of facemasks

The DfE explains that schools should have a process for when face coverings are worn and how they should be removed. 

Schools should communicate this process clearly to pupils, staff and visitors and allow for adjustments to be made for pupils with SEND who may be distressed if required to remove a face covering against their wishes. Safe wearing of face coverings requires the: 

  • Cleaning of hands before and after touching – including to remove or put them on 
  • Safe storage of them in individual, sealable plastic bags between use 

Where a face covering becomes damp, it should not be worn, and the face covering should be replaced carefully. Staff and pupils may consider bringing a spare face covering to wear if their face covering becomes damp during the day. 

Schools must instruct pupils to: 

  • Not touch the front of their face covering during use or when removing it 
  • Dispose of temporary face coverings in a ‘black bag’ waste bin (not recycling bin) 
  • Place reusable face coverings in a plastic bag they can take home with them
  • Wash their hands again before heading to their classroom

Face masks: what are schools doing?

We will update this article when schools return to provide examples of how schools are managing the effective use of face masks with staff and pupils. 

If you are concerned about your school’s approach to face masks you can contact us for further advice and support.

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