UNION bosses have accused the Scottish Government of “causing uncertainty and confusion” after announcing secondary school pupils will be required to wear face coverings - while all pupils will require the items on dedicated transport.

Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that those aged five and older on dedicated school transport will be subject to the public health measure, which will be introduced from Monday - as well as high school pupils in crowded and communal areas, but not in classrooms.

The NASUWT teaching union has warned that ministers should focus on the root cause of outbreaks of Covid-19 in schools, while the EIS union has stressed that improved distancing between people in schools would be a more effective strategy.

Meanwhile a parent campaign group has labelled the move "a slippery slope".

The First Minister said the changes to the official guidance for schools has been formed by “the latest scientific evidence as well as the real-life experience of schools as they re-opened".

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She added: “The current guidance advises that face coverings in the classrooms are not necessary, however, it says that staff should wear them if they can’t physically distance and are having face-to-face interaction with pupils for more than around 15 minutes.

"The guidance also current emphasises that staff and pupils should be supported to wear face coverings if they wish to do so – that advice remains unchanged. However, the new guidance will now include two additional situations where face coverings should be worn.

“Firstly, adults and pupils in secondary schools should wear face coverings when they are moving around school in areas where distancing is challenging – for example, through corridors or communal spaces. Secondly, adults and children aged five and over should wear face coverings on dedicated school transport and that, of course, simply mirrors the situation on public transport more generally.”

Ms Sturgeon stressed that dedicated school transport and crowded parts of schools have a “greater potential for different groups to mix”, there is “les scope for distancing and effective ventilation” and “there’s more chance of voices being raised resulting in the creation of aerosols”.

She added: “We believe that face coverings could provide an additional layer of protection in mitigating these factors.

“We expect that most children and young people will have access to face coverings already, as part of their daily lives. However, we will work with local authorities to ensure that schools also have supplies so that no child is disadvantaged.

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“We hope that these changes provide some additional assurance to pupils, staff and parents.”

Patrick Roach, the general secretary of the NASUWT union, has pointed to the difficulties raised in schools since re-opening earlier this month as guiding the shift in approach by ministers.

He said: “The NASUWT has always been clear that the government must follow the scientific evidence and advice to mitigate the risks of Covid-19 within schools and it is right that guidance is kept under review to in light of changing trends and evidence.

“There is little doubt this revised guidance is in response to the practical difficulties schools are experiencing in maintaining effective social distancing practices, together with a number of reported incidences of coronavirus transmission following the full re-opening of schools in Scotland.

He added: “However, this announcement runs the risk of causing uncertainty and confusion.

“Where schools are unable to ensure effective social distancing, other measures will need to be introduced to protect health and safety. However, if wearing face masks or face coverings in schools is now deemed appropriate in order to safeguard health and safety, then it is difficult to understand why this practice has not been made compulsory.”

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EIS general secretary, Larry Flanagan, said: “The EIS welcomes this decision by the Scottish Government today, which reflects the updated advice from the World Health Organization recommending face coverings for those aged 12 and over, where one-metre distancing cannot be maintained.

“Schools are busy places with a large number of adults and young adults moving around. The use of face coverings in these circumstances is a sensible and appropriate step to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading through school communities.”

He added: “While we welcome today’s announcement, the EIS believes that effective physical distancing between pupils is the best means of reducing the risk of Covid-19 spread in schools.

“This is an area where the guidance from the Scottish Government currently lacks specificity – there needs to be a much sharper focus on ensuring social distancing in schools to protect pupils, staff and the wider community. Smaller class sizes to ensure appropriate physical distancing of pupils are essential.”

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But parent campaign group, Us For Them Scotland, has warned that “parents across Scotland will be angry” at the changes.

Jo Bisset, the group’s organiser, said: “It will impact vulnerable pupils the most and creates another unnecessary challenge for children who’ve already endured months of misery.

“This is also a slippery slope. Today it’s over-12s in certain areas of school. But parents are worried that will very easily become all areas of the school, including the classroom.

“And if masks must be worn by those over 12, why not by eight and nine-year-olds?

“The WHO guidance says this applies in areas where there are high rates of infection, but we know in Scotland that is simply not the case at the moment.

“We urge the Scottish Government to keep this under review and lift the mandatory wearing of masks at the earliest possible opportunity.”