Daily US Times: Face masks are to be worn in secondary classrooms in England’s schools to reduce the spread of the Omicron variant, the government has announced.
The temporary reintroduction of face coverings aims to address concerns about schools remaining open for face-to-face learning this coming term.
Meanwhile, six school staff unions have issued a demand for urgent action to limit the spread of the virus.
They warned national exams would be put at risk without further measures.
They also called for air-cleaning units, financial support for absence cover, help with on-site testing and a relaxation of the Ofsted inspection regime.
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.
Until now, England was the only one of the four UK nations where face masks were not recommended for pupils in classrooms. Teachers will not have to wear them under the new guidelines.
Announcing the change – just a few days before schools reopen – England’s Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said face coverings would be required until 26 January.
This is when the current national Plan B Covid measures run out, although they will be reviewed on or close to 4 January.
He said: “I’m looking forward to welcoming pupils back next week to continue their face-to-face learning, which is so important for their education and wellbeing.
“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 setting, 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.