School pupils as young as five in Scotland will have to wear face coverings in some settings from next week, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.
All children aged five and over will be told to wear a face covering on dedicated school transport from August 31, bringing the advice in line with guidance for public transport, the first minister said.
And in secondary schools all students and adults will have to wear face coverings in areas such as corridors and communal areas where physical distancing is more difficult.
The change in guidance from Scotland follows a switch from the World Health Organization, which is now advising that all children over 12 wear face coverings.
Scotland's Education Secretary John Swinney said schools will be asked to "ensure children and young people have clear instructions on how to put on, remove, and store face coverings".
He added: “The position will be kept under review to ensure that our approach remains commensurate with the evidence and the levels of transmission in Scotland.”
Mr Swinney said schools will be issued with the "obligatory guidance" from next Monday.
Mr Swinney said Scotland's advice for children on school buses meant it was going further than the WHO's guidance.
Meanwhile, the government in Westminster appears to be resisting pressure to enforce face coverings for students, with a Number 10 spokesman saying there are no plans to review current guidance.
The spokesperson said the government is “conscious of the fact" that face coverings "would obstruct communication between teachers and pupils".
The mayor of London is considering whether to advise face coverings for teenagers at schools in the capital, a move which would defy current guidance from the government.
A source told PA that Sadiq Khan is continuing to consult with health experts to ensure that London is following the most up-to-date advice and will do so ahead of children returning to schools.
The wearing of masks could apply to corridors and communal areas, but may not be as necessary in classrooms where it is easier to socially distance.
It is understood that Mr Khan has also asked his team to consult with colleagues in Scotland where schools have been back for two weeks.
Oasis Academy, a chain of 52 schools across the country, has taken matters into its own hands, with its founder ordering all staff and pupils to wear face coverings when they return in September.
Steve Chalke told the BBC face coverings will be considered part of the uniform adding that “we will consult with everyone but this is the way we are going.”
He said the move has been made because “we believe this makes our schools safer than they would otherwise be”, not just for students and staff but also their families.
Mr Chalke, who said it is “all about common sense and taking responsibility”, told the BBC: “There is no such thing as being Covid-safe, just Covid-safer.
“Based on our values and our sense of morality – these are the moves that we are choosing to make.”
Despite England's education secretary insisting the measure is not needed as schools in England prepare to reopen, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) is calling for the issue to be kept under review and is asking for "clear direction" on the matter.
What is the WHO's advice?
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) advice suggests adults and children aged 12 and over should wear a mask - particularly when they cannot guarantee at least a one-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.
The WHO and UN children’s agency Unicef suggested that face shields may be an alternative in situations such as speech classes where the teacher and pupils need to see each other’s mouths.
ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton told the Daily Telegraph: “We would expect the government in Westminster to review its guidance on the use of face coverings in schools – which currently says they are not required – in light of the WHO guidance and the consultation taking place in Scotland.
“The evidence is clearly evolving on this issue and it is important that it is kept under review and that clear direction is provided to schools.”
When asked about face coverings in schools, Dr Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organisation, told Times Radio: “The idea is that you limit the amount of virus that comes from a person’s mouth or nose while talking loudly, especially when you can’t physically distance.
“In schools there are a lot of places where it is difficult to physically distance.
“The wearing of a mask increases the other things you do – washing hands, social distancing and ensuring that you don’t touch your hands nose, eyes with unwashed hands.
“A mask is an extra thing, it is not the the only thing. It is not an obligatory thing, it is something that needs to be negotiated.”
But Professor Russell Viner, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said there was concern about younger children wearing face coverings.
He told BBC2’s Newsnight: “The evidence on masks is very unclear. And, actually, I think that’s in one sense, potentially going beyond the evidence we have.
“There are lots of concerns about mask wearing for children, particularly younger children. Because they touch their face, they are constantly worried about the mask, it actually could, potentially spread the virus more."
On Monday, a Number 10 spokesperson said there were “no plans” to review the guidance on face coverings in schools.
He added: “We are conscious of the fact that it would obstruct communication between teachers and pupils.”
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries has said the evidence on whether children over 12 should wear masks in schools was “not strong”.
Shadow education secretary Kate Green has already said the issue should be kept under review.
Meanwhile, a study suggested wearing face masks may have a negative effect on attitudes towards social distancing, leading people to feel comfortable sitting or standing closer to others
The research, by a team of behavioural scientists at Warwick Business School, also indicates people would keep a smaller distance from others wearing masks.
The scientists say their findings could make it difficult to re-establish social-distancing measures if they are needed to help control the virus in the event of a second wave of cases.