How hot does it have to be for schools to close in the UK? Government guidance for schools as first ever red weather warning issued

With temperatures soaring over the weekend and heat health alerts being issued by the Met Office, the government advises on crucial measures schools should take during a heatwave.

The Met Office has warned that extreme heat is likely for southern and central areas of the UK late this weekend and early next week with temperatures to rise to 35C in some areas.

This has resulted in the first ever red weather warning being issued for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to highlight the impact of extreme temperatures to help protect lives, property and infrastructure.

Temperatures are also expected to stay high overnight during these days, especially in urban areas with a high likelihood of tropical nights for some early next week.

A pupil raises their hand at school. (Pic credit: Matthew Horwood / Getty Images)

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has issued a Level 3 Alert from Sunday to Tuesday, July 19, which is aimed at those particularly in the health and social care sector to advise people to look out for vulnerable people and those with underlying health conditions.

Peter Jenkins, director of campaigns at Water UK, said: “Water companies are seeing substantial demand during this extremely hot weather. We can all help ensure there’s enough to go around by being mindful of the amount of water we use while ensuring we stay hydrated and safe.

“By making just small changes indoors or in the garden you can have a big impact on our water consumption. Our Water’s Worth Saying campaign has a host of helpful top-tips showing the simple things we can all do to save this precious resource, so it remains readily available now and in the future.”

According to the Department for Health and Social Care, children fall under the category of ‘vulnerable’ when it comes to extreme heat as they cannot control their body temperature as efficiently as adults can during hot weather. This is because they don’t sweat as much and therefore can be at risk of ill-health from heat. Heat-related illness can vary from mild heat stress to a fatal heatstroke.

So, with this in mind, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has the answers.

How hot does it have to be for schools to close in the UK?

The HSE provides general guidance for employers, including education businesses, on how to manage high temperatures.

It states that during working/school hours the temperature in all indoor area must be of a reasonable level.

There is no law for minimum or maximum working temperatures, for example when it is too cold or too hot to work.

However, a minimum of 16C or 13C temperature is advisable if employees are doing physical work.

There is no guidance for a maximum temperature limit and employers must follow health and safety at work law, which includes:

- Keep the temperature at a comfortable level

- Provide clean and fresh air

Employees should talk to their employer if the workplace temperature is not comfortable.

What is the guidance for schools and other education settings during a heatwave?

During heatwaves it’s crucial that everyone stays safe, ensures that they drink lots of water and avoids being exposed to the sun for long periods of time, this is particularly the case for children.

While the government is not advising schools to close during high temperatures, they are advising school leaders to make sure they take all necessary precautions to make sure children are safe and comfortable.

Dehydration, lack of water in the body, is the main risk factor from heat, so if sensible measures are taken, children are seldom likely to be adversely affected by hot conditions. However, teachers, assistants, school nurses and all child carers should look out for signs of heat stress, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

The Department of Health and Social Care advises that children should not take part in vigorous physical activity on very hot days, for example when temperatures exceed 30C.

Children should wear loose, light-coloured clothing to remain cool along with sun hats with wide edges and they should stay in the shade as much as possible. Sun cream is a must to protect skin and children should be provided with lots of water.

When it comes to managing heat indoors, it’s recommended that, wherever possible, windows must be opened as early as possible in the morning before children start school, or ideally overnight to ensure heat escapes from the building.

Windows should also be closed when the outdoor air becomes warmer than the air indoors, this should make sure the heat stays out while allowing sufficient ventilation. Indoor blinds or curtains can be closed where possible but should not block ventilation.

The use of electric lighting should be kept to a minimum and equipment should not be left in ‘standby mode’ as this generates heat.

Swinging mechanical fans can be used to increase air circulation if temperatures are lower than 35C. At temperatures above 35C, fans may not prevent heat-related illness and may even aggravate dehydration.

What are the signs a child is suffering from a heat-related medical condition?

The signs of heat stress are:

- Children may appear out of character and show signs of discomfort and irritability. Signs can include those listed below for heat exhaustion and could get worse if they are left untreated, which could result in heat exhaustion and/or heatstroke.

Signs of heat exhaustion include:

- Tiredness

- Dizziness

- Headache

- Nausea

- Vomiting

- Hot, red and dry skin

- Confusion

Signs of heatstroke include:

- High body temperature (a temperature of or above 40C (104F) is a major sign of heatstroke

- Red, hot skin and sweating that then abruptly stops

- Fast heartbeat

- Fast shallow breathing

- Confusion/lack of co-ordination

- Fits

- Loss of consciousness

What actions must be taken if a child is suffering from heat-related illness?

Below are the measures to take if a child exhibits any of the above signs:

1 - Move the child to the coolest room and encourage them to drink cool water (like water for a cold tap).

2 - Cool the child as quickly as possible, using whatever techniques you can; for example, sponge or spray the child with cool (25C to 30C) water, if available, place cold packs around the neck and underarms, or wrap the child in a cool, wet sheet and assist cooling with a fan.

3 - Call 999 to request an ambulance if the child doesn’t respond to the above treatment within 30 minutes.