Guidance on face coverings to be extended to universities, DfE says

Universities in areas of high coronavirus transmission should require staff and students to wear face masks

Guidance on face coverings is to be extended to universities, education secretary Gavin Williamson has said – bringing higher education institutions in line with the rest of the education sector.

The Department for Education yesterday announced that staff and students in secondary schools, sixth forms and further education colleges institutions in areas of high coronavirus transmission should wear face coverings in corridors and communal spaces, but not classrooms.

“Schools will have the discretion to require face coverings in communal areas if they believe that is right in their particular circumstances,” ministers added.

The decision to announce the guidance has been described as a U-turn, after numerous ministers – including business secretary Alok Sharma yesterday morning– repeatedly told reporters that no such guidance would be published.

Gavin Williamson said guidance for universities in England would be updated to reflect the latest rules for schools.

The measures in England differ from those announced in Scotland, which include all secondary schools, sixth forms and FE colleges, irrespective of local transmission rates.

Although universities were not listed in the DfE guidance released yesterday, a statement from the secretary of state explained “this revised approach…will be reflected in guidance to universities”.

Gavin Williamson said he had “decided to follow the World Health Organisation’s new advice” on face coverings, which he hoped would “provide parents, pupils and teachers with further reassurance” as schools begin to reopen next month.

The previous guidance on reopening universities did not include face coverings. The document released in June (and updated in July) suggested university enforce social distancing and good hand and respiratory hygiene measures.

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