BORIS Johnson is set to defy unions and announce that secondary school pupils will no longer have to wear masks in the classroom.
The PM will on Monday confirm that government guidance on face coverings in schools will change from May 17 - the same date that indoor household mixing is permitted.
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Senior Whitehall sources told the Daily Telegraph that officials at the Department of Education are drafting new guidance which will replace the mandatory mask rule currently enforced in secondary school classrooms.
Instead, pupils will be encouraged to wear face coverings in corridors and communal areas.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson told the newspaper: “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 roadmap."
The move is likely to anger education unions who have been pushing to keep masks in classrooms past May 17.
A joint letter to Mr Williamson signed by the National Education Union (NEU) and five other unions earlier this week demanded the mask rule remain in place until the end of term.
It argued that face coverings were “an essential part of the wider system of control in schools” and highlighted the risk of staff developing long Covid.
But three former Department for Education (DfE) ministers yesterday urged the PM to keep his promise and remove the requirement as other lockdown rules are eased.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said he would be sticking by teachers who wanted masks to stay.
One member of the NEU, who claimed that members were quitting over the stance on masks, told The Telegraph: “They are giving teachers a bad name.
“People are dropping out of the union left, right and centre.”
But a government source branded the unions' demand hypocritical - as adults will be able to mix indoors without masks from May 17 regardless.
The source added: “The very same teachers and union leaders will be entirely happy to go to their mate's house and mix inside without masks.
“But they're against going inside a classroom without a mask.”
The final decision will be made over the weekend or on Monday, when government scientists are expected to present the Prime Minister with the latest coronavirus data.
Mr Williamson stressed that virus transmission in schools “remained low” as a result of rapid testing and successful test-and-trace measures for positive cases.
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He argued that removing face masks would “greatly improve” students’ interactions with their teachers.
Boris Johnson announced in February that secondary school pupils would need to wear face masks indoors where they could not socially distance from March 8.
At the time he said it was a temporary measure – but it was later extended until May 17 at the earliest.