Schools must follow the same health and safety laws for indoor temperature as other workplaces, but while there are guidelines for minimum working temperatures, there are currently no laws around maximum working temperature.
“The temperature in workplaces must be reasonable,” the government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says. “Employers must stick to health and safety at work law, including: keeping the temperature at a comfortable level, sometimes known as thermal comfort, and providing clean and fresh air.”
Ultimately, schools are responsible for your child’s safety, so whether or not they stay open is down to the headteacher’s discretion.
It’s not unheard of for schools to close during heatwaves. When temperatures hit more than 36C back in 2006, dozens of schools closed citing poor ventilation and lack of air-conditioning for creating unsuitable working conditions.
But it is unusual: A report from teacher’s union NASUWT found that the overwhelming majority of teachers (94%) reported that they had worked in excessively high temperatures during the summer. The union has previously campaigned for a law change that would require schools to send staff and pupils home if thermometers show more than 30C in classrooms.
Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary said: “Schools should ensure there is an easily accessible source of drinking water available for both staff and students and consider operating flexible working arrangements, where possible, to avoid using classrooms particularly susceptible to high temperatures during the hottest hours of the day.
“If temperatures exceed sensible limits, then schools should undertake a risk assessment and put in place measures to tackle the issue, which could include the use of blinds, fans or additional cooling/heating.
“Where appropriate, employers should also provide alternative rooms or, in extreme situations, order the partial or total closure of the building. Adequate ventilation is also critical, particularly in classrooms used for subjects such as technology, where dust may be generated. Legally, classrooms must be capable of being ventilated adequately.”
If your child’s school is closed due to hot weather you have the right to take emergency time off to make other arrangements, which is known as ‘Dependant Leave’, according to Citizens Advice.
Employment expert Tracey Moss told HuffPost UK: “You are entitled to take a reasonable amount of time to deal with the emergency, for example, a few hours to arrange for a family member to take care of the child, but you must let your employer know as soon as possible.”
A dad from Swadlincote, Derbyshire, decided to keep his children off school when temperatures reached higher than 30C last year. Adam Lamberton, whose two children, George and Tom, attend Pingle Academy, said he didn’t want his kids to be in school in the high temperatures.
“I know it won’t be any cooler [at home] than it is in school, but at least if they are here, I can make sure they are drinking plenty of water, staying safe,” he told the Burton Mail. “I know they won’t wear suncream or their hats if I’m not here to tell them, so at least they are safe if they’re with me.”
In response, the school said they had bottled water available for kids and there are places for them to go if they want to stay out of the sun.
The government’s website says you should contact the school if you’re worried about your child’s health and safety. If you’re still concerned, tell the local council or the HSE.
How to find out if your child’s school is closed.
Each school will have different ways of communicating whether they will be closed, but you can head to the government’s website as a central place to find out.
Go to the school closures site here and enter your postcode. It will take you to the school closure notices for each local council. The site might tell you to contact your school directly, or state whether or not the school is closed. Some schools may communicate additionally via social media pages about closures, so it’s worth checking there too.