The Education Secretary said the coverings should still be worn in secondary schools and colleges as a precautionary measure after the Easter break. It is expected the masks will no longer be required in classes or communal areas at step three of the roadmap next month.
Mr Williamson said: “We obviously all want to get back to facemask-free classrooms and we will do this in line with the latest scientific data while balancing the interests of students, teachers and the wider community.”
But the move comes after five union leaders called on ministers not to rush into removing coverings without careful consideration of the scientific evidence.
A joint letter – from the leaders of the National Education Union, NASUWT, NAHT teaching unions and GMB and Unison – said there was a “strong scientific consensus” that face masks can and should continue to be part of measures to suppress transmission of Covid-19.
But other groups want to see masks removed as soon as possible.
Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The health advice on the wearing of face coverings by secondary school pupils in classrooms is clear and we therefore support the new guidance.
“However, the use of face coverings is clearly not ideal in a classroom setting as it has the capacity to disrupt education.
“It is not something we want to see going on any longer than is absolutely necessary.”
Molly Kingsley, co-founder of the parent campaign group UsForThem, added: “It’s really disappointing that this measure remains in place for frankly a day longer given that there seems to have been no assessment of the harms it causes.”
She said the group has received multiple reports of children suffering from headaches, nausea, fatigue, irritability and facial rashes as a result of wearing masks for up to eight hours a day.