After the government recommendation for secondary school pupils to wear face coverings in lessons was removed on 20 January 2022, the proportion of pupils reporting that they always wore face coverings in lessons was 50%, compared to 80% beforehand.
Headteachers (61%) and pupils (70%) in secondary schools said that wearing face coverings in school definitely or probably should be made mandatory; in contrast 97% of primary school headteachers said that face coverings definitely or probably should not be made mandatory.
Secondary school pupils absent from school because of a coronavirus (COVID-19)-related reason during the autumn term spent longer on remote learning (3.4 hours on average) than primary school pupils (2.5 hours on average).
The parents of 42% of primary school pupils and 38% of secondary school pupils who had learnt remotely felt their child found remote learning "difficult" or "very difficult".
"Struggling with motivation" was the main barrier to learning at home reported by primary school children's parents (39%), secondary school children's parents (44%) and secondary school pupils themselves (55%).
Teachers' biggest concern about providing remote education was a lack of engagement from pupils (69% in primary and 74% in secondary).
Government recommendations on face coverings in England changed during the collection period. The recommendation for face coverings to be worn in secondary school classrooms was removed on 20 January 2022 and the requirement for them to be worn in communal areas in secondary schools was removed on 27 January 2022.
Local authorities may have provided their own public health advice including guidance on face coverings, with some areas potentially continuing the recommendation of wearing them in schools beyond 20 January 2022.
There has never been a recommendation for primary school pupils to wear face coverings.
Requirements to wear a face covering in public indoor settings in England, such as shops and public transport, were also removed on 27 January. This bulletin covers data collected between 18 January and 11 February 2022.
The definition of face covering can be found in the glossary.
Attitudes to face coverings
Attitudes to face coverings varied considerably between primary and secondary school headteachers. At the time of collection, 61% of secondary school headteachers said that face coverings "definitely" or "probably" should be mandatory in secondary schools.
In contrast, 97% of primary school headteachers said that face coverings "definitely" or "probably" should not be made mandatory.
Secondary school pupils (years 7 to 13) echo their teachers’ opinions, with 70% stating that face coverings should “definitely” or “probably” be made mandatory in secondary schools.
Both primary school and secondary school headteachers in the study agreed that wearing face coverings made communication (78% and 74% respectively) and learning (74% and 71% respectively) more difficult.
Over 7 in 10 (71%) secondary school headteachers agreed that face coverings helped pupils to feel safe, compared with 12% of primary school headteachers. Among primary school headteachers, 70% neither agreed nor disagreed with this statement. More secondary school than primary school headteachers also agreed that face coverings helped to keep staff safe (79% compared with 56%).
Similarly, most secondary school pupils said that face coverings made it difficult to communicate with others (74%). About half (49%) agreed that they made learning more difficult. Most reported that face coverings helped them to feel safe (64%). Nearly 9 in 10 (86%) agreed that face coverings helped to keep others safe.
There were similarities between opinions of pupils and their parents. Among secondary school pupils (years 7 to 11) whose parent agreed that face coverings help to keep others safe, 91% also agreed with this statement, compared with 40% of those whose parent did not agree. Parent opinions and comparisons between pupil and parent opinions can be found in our accompanying Schools Infection Survey datasets.
Use of face coverings inside and outside of school settings
One in five (21%) secondary school headteachers in the study reported implementing the use of face coverings inside classrooms, despite no government recommendation being in place at the time of collection.
Half (50%) of secondary schools reported implementing face coverings in corridors and communal areas. The national requirement to wear face coverings in corridors was removed during the data collection period, so school policies would likely be shifting at this time.
There was very little implementation of the use of face coverings by pupils in primary schools, as pupils aged under 11 years have always been exempt from government policy relating to face coverings.
Despite face coverings not being a requirement for the majority of the data collection period, 65% of secondary school pupils reported “always” wearing face coverings when in school corridors or communal areas and 61% reported “always” wearing them in lessons. After government recommendations were removed, fewer pupils said they “always” wore face coverings in lessons (50%) or in corridors or communal areas (55%) than before restrictions were removed (80% and 68% respectively).
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of those who use a school bus or public transport to get to and from school said that they “always” wear a face covering while using this transport.
Of secondary school pupils who responded after restrictions were removed on 27 January, 60% “always” wore face coverings in shops and 32% “always” wore them in crowded outdoor spaces. Only 7% reported “always” wearing face coverings to meet people indoors or while walking along a quiet street.
Parents were also asked about the use of face coverings by their secondary school-aged children inside and outside school. Results were similar to the pupils’ self-reported figures and can be found in our accompanying Schools Infection Survey datasets.Back to table of contents
Secondary school pupils in years 7 to 13 and parents of primary school pupils and secondary school pupils in years 7 to 11 were asked questions about their, or their child's, experiences with remote learning during the autumn term of the 2021 to 2022 academic year if they had been absent because of coronavirus (COVID-19) reasons. Throughout this period, there were no national requirements for restricted attendance in school and schools were required by law to provide a remote education for pupils who were absent because of a COVID-19-related issue, for example, self-isolation.
Of those sampled, 42% of primary school pupils' parents and 38% of secondary school pupils' parents said their child had been physically absent from school in the autumn term because of a coronavirus-related issue. Similarly, 39% of secondary school pupils sampled said they had been absent from school during this period. We do not know if those absent from school had mild or no symptoms or whether they were too ill to learn remotely.
Time spent learning remotely
Within the primary schools sampled, 36% of headteachers expected Key Stage 1 pupils (years 1 to 2) to study for up to 3 hours a day while physically absent from school and 40% of headteachers expected Key Stage 2 pupils (years 3 to 6) to study for up to 4 hours a day.
Within secondary schools, 62% of headteachers expected pupils in Key Stage 3 and 4 (years 7 to 11) to study for up to 5 hours a day. This is in line with guidance provided to schools for remote learning.
Parents of secondary school pupils reported their child learnt remotely for an average of 3.4 hours a day when absent from school because of coronavirus reasons, compared with an average of 2.5 hours for primary school pupils.
Delivering work via online learning platforms for pupils studying from home was the most common method for delivering remote learning used by both primary school headteachers (86%) and secondary school headteachers (79%).
More secondary school than primary school headteachers said they delivered work remotely via either live (71% compared with 57%) or recorded (62% compared with 48%) lessons.
Over half of secondary school pupils said being given online worksheets or activities (62%) and having lessons over video call (55%) were the most helpful methods of remote teaching.
Barriers to remote learning
For primary school pupils who had been set remote learning during the autumn term, 42% had found learning remotely either "difficult" or "very difficult" according to their parents (Figure 9). This was similar for secondary school pupils (38%).
Nearly all primary school headteachers (93%) and secondary school headteachers (91%) expressed at least one concern with providing remote teaching for pupils who are unable to attend school during the autumn term (Figure 10). The lack of engagement from pupils was the most frequent concern for both primary school (69%) and secondary school (74%) headteachers. We do not measure within classroom engagement levels, so we do not know whether engagement is a barrier to in-person learning too.
Most secondary school pupils (58%) said they had experienced at least one struggle when learning from home.
Of these, the most common response was that pupils struggled with motivation (55%). This reflects the concern of headteachers around the lack of engagement from pupils when providing remote learning. Just over a third (36%) of secondary school pupils said they had not been experiencing any difficulties while learning remotely.
Of those provided with remote learning, 62% of primary school pupils’ parents and 61% of secondary school pupils’ parents said their child had faced at least one barrier that made it difficult for them to learn remotely.
The main barrier reported by parents of primary school pupils (39%) and parents of secondary school pupils (44%) was that their child lacked motivation when learning remotely. Full analysis of barriers to remote learning can be found in our accompanying Schools Infection Survey datasets.
More about coronavirus
COVID-19 Schools Infection Survey, face coverings and remote learning, England
Dataset | Released 3 May 2022
Impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on young people and schools, including analysis of face coverings and remote learning, and breakdowns by age and sex where possible. Indicators from the Schools Infection Survey.
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Schools Infection Survey analysis was produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in collaboration with our research partners at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and UK Health Security Agency. Of note are:
Shamez Ladhani - UK Health Security Agency: Consultant Epidemiologist and Study Chief Investigator
Georgina Ireland - UK Health Security Agency: Senior Scientist
Patrick Nguipdop-Djomo - London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: Associate Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Study Co-Principal Investigator
Punam Mangtani - London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Study Co-Principal Investigator
Primary school pupils
Primary school pupils are those in year groups Reception to Year 6. These year groups cover pupils aged 4 to 11 years.
Secondary school pupils
Secondary school pupils are those in year groups Year 7 to Year 13. These year groups cover pupils aged 11 to 18 years.
The headteacher questionnaire is filled out by either the headteacher of a participating school in the Schools Infection Survey (SIS) or a nominated member of school staff. The results are based on responses collected from headteachers, assistant or deputy headteachers, leadership team members, and other staff (for example, personal assistant, business administrator and office staff). We refer to the base of the results as "headteachers" even if the questionnaire was completed by someone else.
Face covering is the term used by the UK government to describe a piece of material that can be secured around the face to cover the nose and mouth. It does not have to be a medically graded mask. Face coverings can reduce the risk against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, reducing the spread of droplets and aerosols carrying coronavirus.
Remote learning covers all activities that pupils and teachers use to stay connected with classroom activities, while a pupil is not physically present at school. At the time of this research, remote learning was only used when individual pupils were required to stay at home because of coronavirus reasons.
Data presented in this bulletin are from Round 2 of the COVID-19 Schools Infection Survey (SIS) during the 2021 to 2022 academic year.
Data from the parent and pupil questionnaires are weighted to population totals for pupils in England. Headteacher questionnaire data are unweighted because of small sample sizes.
Our methodology article provides further information about response rates, survey design, how we process data and estimation methods.
Coverage dates for each survey are:
18 January to 9 February 2022 for the pupil and parent questionnaire
26 January to 11 February 2022 for the headteacher questionnaire
The estimated response rates are:
44% for the pupil questionnaire where 2,482 pupils responded from 5,634 eligible participants registered
64% for the parent questionnaire where parents responded on behalf of 7,010 children from 10,979 eligible children registered
76% for the headteacher questionnaire where 125 headteachers or delegated authority responded on behalf of 165 registered schools
Response rates are dependent on people voluntarily completing the questionnaire, which may introduce respondent bias. As such, pupils and/or parents who are digitally excluded may be more likely to have difficulties with remote learning and may be underestimated in the sample.Back to table of contents
Contact details for this Statistical bulletin
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