SCHOOLS in Andover have welcomed the government’s decision to introduce more testing and facemasks in classrooms for secondary students.

Headteachers have voiced their support for the plan, saying the steps will help them keep positive cases away.

This comes amidst mixed reactions from schools across the country following the new government rules.

The Department for Education says head teachers have access to their own supply of coronavirus swabs to meet demand.

This is despite there being a nationwide test shortages - with ministers saying a stash has already been sent to each school. They will be swabbed on site on the first day, then pupils will be expected to take lateral flow tests themselves at home twice a week as well.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said face coverings would be required until January 26.

Reacting to the new rule, Anthony Kirk-Burgess, headmaster of Rookwood School in Weyhill Road, said: “I am pleased that we can continue in-school teaching this term at Rookwood School.

“We are used to facilitating lateral flow testing for our senior school pupils and we have everything we need to do so again at the start of this term. Whilst I recognise that wearing masks in classrooms can be distracting for some pupils, I believe this is a small price to pay if it helps keep the pupils, staff and their families safe.

“We currently only have one member of staff absent due to Covid but we do have contingency plans should this number rise so that we can maintain in-school teaching as long as possible and, hopefully, for the whole term.”

Other Hampshire schools have also backed the government’s new rules saying the health situation will improve if secondary students wear masks.

Jane Aplin, headteacher of Cranbourne School in Basingstoke, said: “We very much welcome the measures the Government is introducing today, particularly the ability to test all students before returning to school.

“This will help us to keep positive cases away from Cranbourne. Our students are lateral flow testing twice a week anyway and I would urge all parents out there to continue to do this, to keep everyone safe.

“Cranbourne took unilateral action 18 months ago to introduce facemasks and ventilation to all classrooms and we have never changed this policy, because it works. Cranbourne has very low rates of infection; staff and student attendance is high. The Government now has made these measures mandatory for all, which I think will help us keep this more transmissible Omicron variant at bay.”

Chris Edwards, the headteacher of Brighton Hill Community School, also backed the new government rules.

He said: “As with most secondary schools across the country, we will be giving every student with parental consent a lateral flow test upon their return to school this week. Once they have returned a negative result, they will be returning to lessons and, as per the government’s guidelines, will be wearing face coverings when indoors.”

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons Education Select Committee, said he feared the move could damage children’s mental health.

But Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, said he would rather have face coverings worn in classrooms than children stuck at home.

Leading teaching and education unions said the face mask rules were “overdue” and called for them to be made “a requirement”.