A reintroduced legal requirement for passengers to wear a face covering on public transport in England does not capture dedicated home-to-school services, guidance updated by the Department for Education (DfE) in accordance with the relevant legislation confirms.
The document was revised by DfE immediately ahead of the face covering requirement coming into force at 0400hrs on 30 November. However, it advises that children and young people aged 11 and over who are not exempt “should wear a face covering when travelling on dedicated transport.” Children under the age of 11 are not in scope of the legislation.
Despite the DfE guidance, at least one local authority in England quickly stated via social media that the use of face coverings by children aged 11 or over on dedicated home-to-school services is mandatory.
The relevant legislation describes a public transport service as “any service for the carriage of passengers from place to place which is available to the general public” but with the specific exemption of “a school transport service.”
Some coach operators in England have already communicated via social media that face coverings are required on all their services – including holiday tours – unless the passenger concerned is exempt.
The Department for Transport still had not updated its safer travel guidance for operators and for passengers over 12 hours after the face covering requirement came into force. One trade body representative has suggested that when the necessary revisions are published, time constraints mean that the position will be no different to what it was in England until 19 July.
DfE’s wider stance remains that there is no recommendation for distancing to be maximised or mixing to be minimised on dedicated home-to-school transport. However, it says that educational establishments should have contingency plans in place for if the number of COVID-19 cases locally increases “substantially.”
Those mitigations may include consideration of whether previous measures to reduce mixing on transport could be reinstated. It is not expected that the additional dedicated home-to-school transport that was paid for by DfE in 2020 and earlier in 2021 will be needed in the future.
Download the DfE guidance as a PDF here.