SCHOOLS in Cheshire West and Chester are reopening their doors fully for all pupils to make their return on Monday, March 8.

For many, it will be their first time inside a school building in over two months – but the classroom will be a different environment.

Primary school pupils will not have to wear face coverings, but school staff and adult visitors will. In secondary schools, colleges and academies, all students from Year 7 and above, along with staff and adult visitors, will have to wear a face covering unless medically exempt.

Here are some answers to questions parents and pupils may have on the wearing of face masks, as per official Government advice:

Where will pupils be told to wear face masks?

Pupils in Year 7 and above, including in special schools, academies and colleges, must wear face coverings in classrooms and during activities, unless social distancing can be maintained. They must also wear them in school corridors and communal areas. They do not need to be worn when outdoors on the premises.

What about for physical exercises?

The Government has advised face masks are not required "in situations where wearing a face covering would impact on the ability to take part in exercise or strenuous activity, for example in PE lessons." Pupils must store their face coverings safely before taking part in such exercises and wash their hands before re-applying the face covering afterwards.

What is a suitable face mask?

The Government advises reusable or single-use face coverings are acceptable, along with a scarf, bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering – but these must securely fit round the side of the face.

Transparent face coverings which may assist communication with someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate, can also be worn. The Government says is currently very limited evidence regarding the effectiveness or safety of transparent face coverings, but they may be effective in reducing the spread of coronavirus.

Face visors or shields should not be worn as an alternative to face coverings. The Government says they may protect against droplet spread in specific circumstances, but are unlikely to be effective in preventing aerosol transmission 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.

Who is exempt from wearing face coverings?

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.

In addition, individuals who:

  • cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical impairment or disability, illness or mental health difficulties
  • speak to or provide help to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate

are exempt from wearing face coverings.

Government advice says: "The same exemptions should be applied in education settings, and we would expect teachers and other staff to be sensitive to those needs, noting that some people are less able to wear face coverings and that the reasons for this may not be visible to others."

How should pupils look after their face coverings?

The Government says clear instructions should be provided to pupils on how to put on, remove, store and dispose of face coverings.

Advice includes cleaning hands before and after touching them, and storing face coverings in individual, sealable plastic bags between use.

Pupils are urged not to touch the front of their face when wearing a face covering or when removing it, and to dispose temporary face coverings in a 'black bag' waste bin (ie not a recycling bin).

Pupils are also advised to consider bringing a spare face covering in case their main one is damaged during the day.

Any face covering which becomes damp should not be worn, and should be replaced. Schools are advised to have a contingency spare supply of face masks for pupils who are struggling to access a face covering, have a damaged face covering, or have forgotten to wear one.

The Government adds: "No pupil or student should be denied education on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering."

How long will these measures last?

The Government says the face covering rules will last until Easter, when the rules will be reviewed, and may be removed if infection rates across the country have declined sufficiently.