FROM Monday senior pupils in Scotland’s schools will need to wear face masks in class if they live in a Level 3 or 4 area.

The rule change was announced by John Swinney yesterday after the government’s scientific advisers warned of higher infection and transmission risks for people around the age of 16 to 17.

The Education Secretary described it as “an additional precautionary measure”.

The new policy was given a cautious welcome by the unions but the Scottish Deaf Society warned that it could present “serious challenges” for deaf children.

Other changes announced by the Government included making it a requirement that parents on the school run wear face coverings when they drop off and pick up their kids.

And all adults visiting and working in schools will need to wear masks where they cannot keep more than two metres away from other adults or children above P2.

Pupils will now be allowed to take PE indoors, however, singing will still be banned.

Swinney said the changes came after “updated scientific and health advice”.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily briefing, he said: “Keeping schools and childcare open is one of our top priorities.

“I understand that that is frustrating for other sectors who are having to close temporarily, or who face restrictions.

“I want to be pretty straightforward about the choice we have made here.

“Bluntly, if we are to successfully suppress the virus and save lives, we cannot open up every sector and keep our schools open at the same time.

“That is the hard choice we face and we have chosen to put schools and childcare first.

“We have done that because we know closing schools increases inequality, and potentially causes long-term harm to children. And we are determined to avoid doing that.”

Swinney said the government was keen to avoid any automatic move to school closures or blended learning, but said remote learning would remain “an important contingency, should that be required.”

Larry Flanagan from the EIS said the government’s advice should have gone further: “The proposed mitigations at Level 4, essentially face coverings for senior pupils, are inadequate.

“The EIS is clear that Level 4 should trigger an automatic consideration of moves towards blended or remote learning.

“Schools cannot stay open at any cost – the safety of pupils and staff has to be the priority, especially those with increased vulnerabilities.

“In the event of any council area moving into Level 4, the EIS is likely to consult affected members directly on their views.”

Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union agreed. He said “much more needs to be done to keep teachers and pupils safe whilst schools remain open fully.”

He added: “The NASUWT has been clear from the outset that teachers and other school staff must be afforded the same levels of protection as all other workers.

“The strengthening of the guidance for schools on the use of face masks by staff, pupils and parents is welcome, but the Government must also address the lack of any effective physical distancing in schools which continues to be a major factor in helping the spread of the Coronavirus in schools.”

Alasdair O’Hara, Head of Policy for Scotland at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said the charity had concerns.

He said: “The safety of pupils and staff is the number one priority, but using face masks and coverings in classrooms will present serious challenges for deaf children.

“Schools must start discussing the issue immediately with specialist staff, parents and deaf children themselves, then make every reasonable adjustment necessary to make sure deaf pupils can fully access learning.

“Unless their needs are considered at every stage, deaf children’s education, life chances and mental wellbeing will be on the line.”

Guidance for school staff and pupils who are shielding has also been updated.

At Level 3, parents or guardians should discuss with their GP or clinician whether children who are shielding should attend school.

At Level 4, the current advice is that children on the shielding list should not attend school in person. However, the government said it would look at how it could use individualised risk assessments to maximise attendance.

Also at this highest level, greater levels of testing will be required in response to outbreaks in schools.