Teachers and staff in non-residential schools will not need personal protective equipment (PPE) when schools start to return to full capacity, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has said.
Speaking at the Downing Street briefing, Mr Jenrick said according to scientific advice items such as face and mouth coverings would not be required for adults in schools.
His assertion is likely to worry teachers – a recent poll found around three out of four believed PPE should be made available to them.
Mr Jenrick said on Wednesday: “We’ve taken scientific advice with respect to the level of PPE required in schools.
“As I understand it, the advice is that staff in non-residential education settings don’t require PPE but we will obviously keep that under close review.”
He added the government was developing guidance on how to manage social distancing within schools based on advice given to schools that are currently open to a reduced number of students.
Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said PPE was only one aspect of a package of measures needed to contain the virus, including thorough hand washing.
She said that how schools are cleaned and disinfected as well as how the children are spaced would be important.
“This will all take quite a lot of organisation and this is why no-one is rushing to do this (open schools) prematurely.”
It's not about *when* we return, it's about *how* we return.@NAHTnews survey shows reduced staff numbers, inability to implement social distancing, and lack of PPE are top concerns for school leaders around #schoolsreopeninghttps://t.co/L1Ss7Wz4Tt#COVIDー19#COVID19pic.twitter.com/3hnHiwFGFA
— NAHT (@NAHTnews) May 5, 2020
A recent survey of 17,000 school staff across the UK conducted by education magazine Tes found 76% wanted PPE when schools open fully.
Of the survey respondents who said they felt PPE will be needed, 84% say it should include a face mask covering nose and mouth, and 31% say it should include eye protection or aprons and gowns.
The research found 74% believed it would be “impossible” to manage social distancing when more pupils return to school.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT heads’ union, told Tes: “We have argued that the Government’s advice needs to go further on PPE. Staff have a right to feel safe when they go to work, and to be safe in reality.
“If PPE is not required, then the Government will need to be clear and honest about why, otherwise teachers will not feel safe without it.
“If PPE is required, then it should be readily available to all settings where the science says it is needed, before staff are expected to work, and before lockdown measures are relaxed.”