Facemasks are to be worn in classrooms in England’s secondary 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.

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.

Some individual schools and local authorities in England had already required masks in classrooms, and face coverings were recommended in schools in England between 8 March and 17 May last year.

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 education was the “number one priority” for him and the prime minister, and that they would do “everything in our power” to minimise disruption.

The government also said it would be making 7,000 air cleaning units available to early years settings, schools and colleges.

 

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