Secondary school pupils in NI asked to wear face coverings in corridors

Post-primary pupils in Northern Ireland will be asked to wear face coverings in corridors and other communal areas, Stormont’s education minister said.

The official guidance to limit the spread of coronavirus comes into effect on August 31 when schools return on a full-time basis.

Peter Weir said his key priority was that pupils returned to classrooms on a full-time basis as soon as it is safe to do so.

Peter Weir
Peter Weir

“Following further advice which I have received today from the chief medical officer (Dr Michael McBride) and the chief scientific adviser (Professor Ian Young), I am recommending that pupils and teachers wear a face covering in corridors and other communal areas of post-primary schools from next week when schools return full-time.”

He said public health advice is that the use of face coverings provides some benefits.

The DUP minister said it was not a replacement for frequent hand washing, social distancing where possible, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and regular cleaning of surfaces.

“It is also important to remember that evidence suggests that the risk of transmission in schools is relatively low compared to some other settings.”

Ministers strongly recommend that all pupils wear a face covering on all dedicated school transport, including buses and taxis, where it is appropriate for them to do so.

Mr Weir added: “In relation to communal areas in schools, the guidance already strongly encourages face coverings for activities that entail large numbers of staff or pupils within an enclosed space where social distancing is not possible.”

Former education minister John O’Dowd
Former education minister John O’Dowd

Face coverings are not recommended as being compulsory for routine use in education settings.

However, staff and pupils may wish to use them during the routine school day and this is acceptable, the minister added.

The first year groups returned to school on Monday for the first time since lockdown began in March amid trepidation from some parents and teachers.

Sinn Fein’s former education minister John O’Dowd has said the decision to recommend the wearing of face coverings in school settings should have been introduced with immediate effect.

He added: “This latest move by the minister is yet another example of lack of clear decision-making and guidance from the education minister which has caused confusion for parents, teachers and students.”