Pupils: Hearing Impairment

Department for Education written question – answered on 31st March 2021.

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Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to ensure that deaf children are not disadvantaged by the use of face coverings in classrooms during the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what guidance he has issued to schools on ensuring that reasonable adjustments are put in place for (a) deaf and (b) other pupils who rely on lipreading or facial expressions when face masks or coverings are worn in classrooms.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the guidance published by his Department entitled Schools coronavirus (COVID-19) operational guidance, what specific evidence is referred to in that guidance in respect of the effectiveness and safety of transparent face coverings; and if he will place a copy of that evidence in the Library.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

The Department has published updated guidance for schools to support the return to full attendance, which includes updated advice on face coverings. The guidance can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-schools-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak and here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-in-education.

As the guidance outlines, some individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings. This includes people who cannot put on, wear, or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness, impairment, or disability, or if you are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate. The same legal exemptions that apply to the wearing of face coverings in shops and on public transport also apply in schools and we expect staff and pupils 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.

Transparent face coverings, which may assist communication with someone who relies on lip reading or facial expression to communicate, can also be worn. There is currently very limited evidence regarding the effectiveness or safety of transparent face coverings, but they may be effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Our guidance on the system of controls and the use of face coverings in schools is informed by the latest public health evidence and advice from Public Health England. Schools should follow the system of controls as outlined in our guidance and put in place proportionate control measures that suit their individual circumstances, based on a thorough risk assessment. This should include making reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils and students to support them to access education successfully.

The Department continues to provide information to the sector on our guidance, and any changes to it, through regular departmental communications. These additional precautionary measures will be kept under review and we will update guidance as necessary.

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