Secondary school pupils in Scotland will continue to wear face coverings in class, according to new guidance from the Scottish Government.

A more cautious approach is being taken, advised by clinicians including chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith, to provide ample time for 12-15 year olds to take up the first dose of vaccination.

A sharp drop in cases across the country has slowed, with figures rarely dropping below 2,000 per day in the past three weeks.

Face coverings in communal areas for secondary pupils and staff, as well as primary staff, will also continue.

The new guidance is contrary to reports last week that the need for face coverings would be dropped when pupils return from the October break.

But Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has said the restrictions will be lifted “at the earliest possible time”.

“In recent weeks we have seen the previous sharp decline in Covid-19 case numbers starting to level off, and that is why we have decided to adopt a cautious approach and maintain safety mitigations in school for the time-being,” she said.

“Progress with vaccinating 12-15 year olds has been remarkable and is already over 40 per cent.

“However, this was only rolled out a few weeks ago and allowing further time will mean that that encouraging figure rises even higher.

“This decision is based on advice from senior clinicians and takes account of the most recent data.

“We will continue to monitor case rates on a weekly basis, with a view to lifting restrictions at the earliest possible time.”

Ms Somerville added: “While I fully understand that this will be disappointing news for some young people and their parents, as has been the situation throughout, the safety of children, young people, and all education staff, remains the overriding priority.

“There is no room for complacency and we must all continue to remain vigilant to reduce the spread of Covid-19.”

Teachers leaders welcomed the move with Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS union, saying they had “argued for great caution in any easing of school mitigations, especially in light of continuing high levels of infection and the incomplete rollout of vaccinations for pupils”.

Mr Flanagan added: “The priority is to keep schools open but as safe as possible, so this delay from the Scottish Government, with regard to easing mitigations, is welcome and will allow, also, more time for ventilation challenges to be met ahead of winter.”

But Scottish Conservative education spokesman, Oliver Mundell, said the continued requirement for face coverings “will come as a massive disappointment to pupils and parents given the SNP strongly indicated that masks in classrooms would end after the October break”.

The Tory MSP said: “Scotland’s schools should have been a priority for the SNP but with facemasks in classrooms remaining, young people have once again been sent to the back of the queue.”