1. Face coverings are an essential part of reducing the risk of Covid-19 transmission.  Face coverings which are not medical standard masks are intended to reduce the risk of transmission if the wearer has Covid-19, rather than protecting the wearer. Medical masks, such as FFP2 and FFP3 masks, also protect the wearer.
  2. The Department for Education (DfE) no longer advises that face coverings should be worn anywhere in school or college by staff or students. Directors of public health may temporarily reinstate the wearing of face coverings in schools and colleges in the event of an outbreak and leaders can make decisions about their own settings. The Government has removed the legal requirement to wear face coverings but ‘expects and recommends’ that they be worn on public transport and dedicated transport to school and college, unless exemptions apply.
  3. Although the DfE advises against the wearing of face coverings, it does set out that, as part of contingency planning, schools should recognise that face coverings may need to be reintroduced following advice from a Director of Public Health if there is a substantial increase in positive cases.
  4. In secondary settings, the NEU believes that staff and students should be encouraged to wear face coverings around the premises (including in classrooms). Where there are staff and students who are clinically vulnerable or extremely vulnerable, we would urge that they be afforded the courtesy of fellow students and colleagues wearing a face covering, if requested, when working together in a secondary classroom, or in other close contact settings, including meetings.
  5. The NEU believes any students or members of staff who choose to wear a face covering for purposes of personal or collective reassurance should be permitted to do so. The union expects schools and colleges to respect this reasonable position. This reflects the Health and Safety Executive’s advice that, if staff choose to wear face coverings, this should be supported by employers. Should any head teacher seek to prevent the wearing of face coverings, the NEU will support members who wish to secure a reversal of that position. We recommend the use of reusable face coverings rather than disposable ones on environmental grounds.
  6. In certain circumstances, school and college staff may require medical face masks or PPE to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 by students. Where risks cannot adequately be controlled in other ways, the law requires that PPE must be supplied by employers. Risk assessments in relation to certain types of work with students (those with multiple or profound special needs) might require the provision of PPE such as medical face masks, face visors, aprons and gloves.
  7. The DfE position, is that such PPE is only needed in a very small number of situations – where an individual child, young person or other learner becomes ill with Covid-19 symptoms, and only then where 2 metres cannot be maintained, and where a child, young person or learner already has routine intimate care needs that involve the use of PPE, in which case the same PPE should continue to be used.
  8. The NEU disagrees with this. The union believes that the DfE has failed to fully understand the risks to staff working in settings such as specific learning disability and profound and multiple learning disabilities and also in other early years and SEND settings. In these circumstances, there is close personal contact with pupils who cannot control behaviour such as spitting, coughing or sneezing, or whose behaviour or learning needs to be physically managed, creating airborne risks which cannot be controlled in other ways. Cleaning and laundry staff and anyone administering first aid or medical care should also be provided with appropriate PPE as necessary following a risk assessment.
  9. We advise that staff working in such circumstances should be provided with PPE.  PPE, including FFP2 or FFP3 grade masks, if appropriate, should be provided for staff administering first aid, medical care or personal care activities where social distancing cannot be maintained, for example, in some special schools and nurseries. Where PPE is needed, it must be appropriate for the individual and training must be given in its proper use and disposal – hearing aid users cannot wear ties around the ears, while British Sign Language users or those who need children to see their mouth will need clear masks.
  10. Risk assessments should also consider the need for appropriate PPE to be provided for staff who are defined as clinically vulnerable or extremely vulnerable.