Prime minister Boris Johnson has announced that students and staff in colleges will no longer need to wear face coverings in class from 17 May. The government added staff should continue to wear them in communal areas such as the staffroom, where social distancing may not be possible.
Currently, face coverings need to be worn in all public areas of colleges, including classrooms. In an announcement in April, the government said face coverings would have to be worn by college students until at least the middle of May. In that announcement, the Department for Education said the guidance would remain in place as a precautionary measure.
Later last month, schools minister Nick Gibb said he hoped the rule could be lifted in line with that planned timescale.
Background: Back to college – masks to be worn in classrooms
But he added that the decision on whether to lift the precautionary measure when the further easing of social contact limits indoors is confirmed, which will be no earlier than 17 May, will depend on "the data".
Covid: Face masks won't be required in college classrooms
Today, prime minister Boris Johnson said: "We will no longer require face coverings in classrooms, or for students in communal areas in secondary schools and colleges. All remaining university students will be able to return to in-person teaching, where they should be tested twice."
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Step three of the roadmap allows people to mix indoors once again and in line with the latest data, we no longer need to recommend that face coverings are worn in the classroom. Over the past year we have always put the wellbeing of pupils and staff first, and this step is now the right one, as vaccinations protect the most vulnerable in society and we turn our attention to building back better from the pandemic.
“Testing in schools and colleges continues to be important, so I urge all students, families and teachers to keep testing themselves twice weekly, to help reduce the risk of transmission.”
Jon Richards, head of education at support staff union Unison, said: “This is a case of too much, too soon. Everyone wants to get back to normality, but any change has to happen safely. Otherwise, all the care taken over the past few months in schools could be undone.
“Face masks will still be needed in other indoor spaces like shops, restaurants and cinemas. Schools and colleges shouldn't be treated any differently. New virus variants are out in the community. Yet despite repeated requests ministers have failed to reveal the extent of the new strains in schools. Pupils, parents and staff deserve much better."