The Education Secretary has said the Government is planning to lift the face mask requirement for secondary school pupils in England despite opposition from unions.

Gavin Williamson told the Telegraph that the Government planned to remove the measure at step three of its road map out of lockdown, which will be no earlier than May 17.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to make the announcement on Monday, according to the newspaper.

It comes as a group of unions and scientists wrote to Mr Williamson calling for face coverings to remain in schools until at least June 21, describing the measure as "an essential part of the wider system of control in schools".

But Mr Williamson told the Telegraph: "As infection rates continue to decline and our vaccination programme rolls out successfully, we plan to remove the requirement for face coverings in the classroom at step three of the road map."

Students wearing face masks sit for the written part of the secondary school final exam at the Mihaly Fazekas Grammar School in Debrecen, Hungary
Unions have raised concerns about the safety of children and staff if the rules are relaxed too soon

He added: "Removing face masks will hugely improve interactions between teachers and students, while all other school safety measures will remain in place to help keep the virus out of classrooms."

The letter to Mr Williamson, from five unions representing teachers and support staff, as well as scientists, public health experts and parents, highlights concerns about the risks of developing long Covid, warning that an estimated 43,000 children and 114,000 school staff are thought to be suffering from the condition.

The letter said: "To strip these necessary protections, when there are already too few mitigation measures in schools, and when rates of Covid-19 are still significant, would have consequences for the health of our children and their parents as well as their communities."

Pupils wear protective face masks on the first day back to school at Outwood Academy Adwick in Doncaster
The Government intends to change the guidance after the next big restrictions easing on May 17

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "As infection rates continue to decline and our vaccination programme rolls out successfully, we plan to remove the requirement for face coverings in the classroom in line with step three of the road map.

"Virus transmission in schools continues to drop, with the latest data showing a significant decrease in students and staff testing positive and cases isolated quickly thanks to our twice-weekly rapid testing programme."