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08.04.2021 | By Paul Simpson

Important changes to DfE guidance on face coverings in education

Posted in News

We are very grateful to Ian Noon of the NDCS for this analysis of recent Government guidance.

Colleagues will have seen the DfE announcement that face coverings will continue to be recommended in secondary classrooms in England until at least the 17th May.

The Department for Education have also made two important changes to the guidance on face coverings in education.

1)    Reasonable adjustments

The guidance now includes a list of possible reasonable adjustments that can be made with deaf children where face coverings are being worn in classrooms. They also highlight the importance of conversations with families and deaf young people on any reasonable adjustments.

The use of face coverings may have a particular impact on those who rely on visual signals for communication. Those who rely on visual signals for communication, or communicate with or provide support to such individuals, are currently exempt from any requirement to wear face coverings in education settings or in public places.

Schools and FE providers have duties to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils and students, to support them to access education successfully.

The following is a non-exhaustive list which provides examples of possible adjustments:

  • The provision and effective use of assistive listening devices, such as radio aids.
  • An increased focus on the listening environment, minimising all unnecessary background noise. Steps should be taken so that children with hearing loss are taught in classrooms with the best possible acoustic conditions.
  • Allowing the use of speech-recognition apps on mobile devices and tablets in classrooms, taking into account possible variations in the effectiveness of such apps in different classroom situations.
  • Additional communication support, including remote speech-to-text reporters or sign language interpreters.
  • Separate one-to-one teaching and support, without the use of face coverings and in rooms where social distancing can be achieved and/or through a Perspex panel.

Where appropriate, education settings should discuss with pupils and parents the types of reasonable adjustments that are being considered to support an individual.

The suggested reasonable adjustments have been taken from an NDCS briefing on this.

2)    Face shields/visors

Guidance is now clear that face visors or shields can be worn as an alternative to the exemption. Previously it simply stated that they should not be worn as an alternative to the face covering.

Face visors or shields can be worn by those exempt from wearing a face covering but they are not an equivalent alternative in terms of source control of virus transmission. They may protect the wearer against droplet spread in specific circumstances but are unlikely to be effective in preventing the escape of smaller respiratory particles when used without an additional face covering. They should only be used after carrying out a risk assessment for the specific situation and should always be cleaned appropriately.

As before, exemptions are in place which mean that teachers, other staff and pupils can remove any face covering when communicating with deaf young people. However, recognising that some people may feel reluctant to do this, we felt it was important that guidance sets out other adjustments that can be made where face coverings are being worn to ensure deaf young people are not disadvantaged.

The guidance can be read in full using the below link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-in-education

Whilst we welcome the above changes, there are still other changes that we would like to see. In particular, we would like the guidance to more explicitly endorse the use of clear face masks. We will be continuing to press the Department to make these further changes as soon as possible.

We have also published a blog on the above changes which can be shared with families, schools and colleges:

https://www.ndcs.org.uk/blog/keep-it-clear-campaign-update-england/