Face coverings and asymptomatic Covid-19 tests in secondary schools will not be compulsory when pupils in England return to class next month, the schools minister has confirmed.
Nick Gibb acknowledged that it is “more challenging” to teach with face masks, but he said wearing face coverings is “highly recommended”.
He appealed to parents to allow their secondary school-age children to take part in regular voluntary rapid coronavirus tests when classrooms reopen from March 8.
He told Times Radio: “Of course we can’t make it mandatory on parents but we just hope that most parents will see the wisdom of testing their children twice a week.”
Over the first two weeks of term, secondary school and college pupils will be asked to take three Covid-19 tests on site and one at home. They will then be sent home-testing kits to do twice-weekly.
Asked whether it should be a case of “no test, no school”, Mr Gibb told LBC radio: “No, we want to make sure it is not compulsory in that sense, and they will need the permission of the parents.
“In all these things, it is a balance of risk and just having anybody tested, frankly, and identifying asymptomatic cases is a bonus in terms of minimising the risk.”
He said he hopes that the vast majority of students will volunteer to use the lateral flow tests.
Primary school children will not need to take a rapid coronavirus test when they return to class.
On face coverings, Mr Gibb told LBC: “It is more challenging to teach where you have masks on the children and on the teachers, but we have a new variant of this virus which is far more transmissible than the previous variant.”
Asked on BBC Breakfast whether secondary school pupils will have to wear face coverings, he said: “We are saying it is not mandatory for schools to have masks in classrooms but it is highly recommended because we want to do everything we can to reduce the risk of transmission in the school.”
His comments come after the National Deaf Children’s Society warned that the Government’s recommendation for face coverings to be worn could have a “devastating” effect on youngsters with hearing difficulties.
The Department for Education (DfE) has said teachers should continue to be sensitive to the additional needs of their students, such as deafness, in deciding whether it is appropriate to wear a face covering.