On Friday 16th October the government updated their guidance on face coverings in education. A link to the guidance can be found here.
In terms of impact on schools, it is worth remembering that this will form part of a school’s risk assessment.
Overall accountability for health and safety lies with the employer of the members of staff in the school and the day-to-day running of the school (including responsibility for the health and safety of staff and pupils) is normally delegated to the school head and the management team. This has not changed throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Neither has the obligation on schools to continue to identify hazards and risks and to put in place proportionate control measures been diminished. The well-known test to be applied is to take reasonably practicable measures to protect staff, pupils and other from Covid-19 within the education workplace.
It remains the case that education settings must comply with health and safety law, which requires, amongst other things, risk assessments to be drafted, implemented, maintained, monitored, and periodically updated generally and when national and local Covid-19 guidance requires changes to be made. Schools will, of course, have risk assessments already in place in line with government guidance for schools (link here) and will review those measures from time to time.
The government guidance to work from home makes no mention of education settings and schools, in the main, will continue to operate normally. The national tiers guidance is different to the school tier guidance. It is clear in the guidance that schools are to remain open (unless, of course, national guidance states otherwise as we progress through the academic year).
The guidance on face coverings was changed with the announcement of the national alert tiers. In relation to areas where local restrictions apply, the guidance says:
“When an area moves to the local Covid alert level ‘high’ or ‘very high’, in education settings where year 7 and above are educated, face coverings should be worn by adults (staff and visitors) and pupils when moving around indoors, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain. As in the general approach, it will not usually be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom, where protective measures already mean the risks are lower, and they may inhibit teaching and learning.
When an area moves to the local COVID alert level ‘high’ or ‘very high’, schools and colleges will need to communicate quickly and clearly to staff, parents, pupils and learners that the new arrangements require the use of face coverings in certain circumstances.”
Impact on schools
Depending on the age range of pupils in the school and locality, schools will need to apply the new guidance and may face questions from staff as to whether it forms part of the school’s risk assessment.
If in an area where the Covid alert level is ‘high’ or ‘very high’, it is important that in education settings where year 7 and above are educated, that the new guidance is implemented and that this is appropriately communicated clearly to staff, parents and pupils and any visitors on site.
Some schools have already adopted this approach in any event, even if not in a local area with additional restrictions.