Although pupils will only be asked and not ordered to wear masks, scientists have warned more than 1 million children could be at risk of infection. The “short-term” recommendation is set to be reviewed on January 26 but could be extended should surging Covid cases persist.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, blasted the Government for the delay in the move, saying it was “overdue” but a requirement.
She told The Mirror: “Finally, the Government have been forced to recognise, and react to, the scale of the Omicron variant and its potential impact on education.
“The recommendation on wearing face masks in secondary school classrooms is overdue – but it should be a requirement.”
The Government has also announced it is investing in 7,000 air-cleaning units for classrooms which will be used “where quick fixes to improve ventilation are not possible, such as being able to open a window”.
However, with almost 25,000 schools across the UK, the Government will fall far short of protecting every student.
Dr Bousted added: “The fact the Government has provided the extra purifiers shows it recognises the problem but with over 300,000 classrooms in England they have failed to provide an effective solution.”
As Omicron continues to surge across the country, teacher absences are set to increase.
In England a record 162,572 Covid cases were registered in the latest 24-hour period, Government figures show.
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“Since I came into this role six months ago, I’ve also been acutely conscious of the enormous health, social and economic costs of lockdowns.
“So I’ve been determined that we must give ourselves the best chance of living alongside the virus and avoiding strict measures in the future.”