DfE updates its Covid guidance to reflect action against Omicron variant

29 November 2021

Pupils at secondary schools in England are being “strongly advised” to wear face coverings in communal areas after the Government announced new measures to deter the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 first discovered in South Africa.

Education unions have already called for the new guidance on face coverings to be extended to include the classroom.

An email from the Department for Education (DfE) sent to heads after the Government announcement said: “Face coverings should be worn in communal areas in all settings by staff, visitors and pupils or students in year 7 and above, unless they are exempt.”

The latest changes come after the Government announced that masks will have to be worn in shops and on public transport from Tuesday 20 November (see “Government acts against new Omicron variant”).

Schools Covid-19 operational guidance, issued by the DfE last year, has been updated to include the new requirements with the revised version available here.

This links to separate guidance available for early years and childcare settings and for further education colleges and providers.

The DfE also makes it clear that it expects independent schools to follow the control measures set out in this guidance in the same way as state-funded schools.

Changes to the previous version of the guidance

The changes in the revised version cover:

  • updated advice on tracing close contacts and isolation to reflect the change in measures for close contacts of suspected or confirmed Omicron cases

  • updated advice on face coverings to reflect the change in measures

  • replacement of references to Public Health England (PHE) with references to the United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA)

  • updated information in the “Other considerations” section on vaccination of those aged under 18

  • an updated travel and quarantine section to reflect that pupils arriving from abroad will need to isolate and test on arrival

  • an updated educational visits section to advise consideration of whether to go ahead with any planned international educational visit.