This Is When To Keep Your Kids Off School If They're Sick

The UK's chief medical adviser has urged parents to keep "unwell" children at home.
Professor Susan Hopkins of the UKHSA issued the new advice for children and their parents
Fajrul Islam via Getty Images
Professor Susan Hopkins of the UKHSA issued the new advice for children and their parents

Children who are “unwell and have a fever” should be kept home from nursery and school to try and reduce the spread of winter illnesses, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said.

Flu and Covid-19 are currently circulating at high levels and are likely to continue to increase in the coming weeks, the health body said.

Meanwhile high numbers of scarlet fever, which is caused by group A streptococcus, also continue to circulate. It’s been reported that 30 children in the UK have now died from invasive Strep A since September 19.

Professor Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UKHSA, urged parents: “If your child is unwell and has a fever, they should stay home from school or nursery until they feel better and the fever has resolved.”

But what actually constitutes “unwell”?

We’ve broken down when you can and can’t send your children to school, using advice from NHS Choices.

When to keep your child off school

  • If they have a fever, keep them off until the fever goes away.
  • If they have a high temperature, keep them off school until it goes away.
  • If they have diarrhoea or vomiting they should stay away from school until they have not been sick or had diarrhoea for at least 48 hours.
  • If they have chickenpox, keep them off school until all the spots have crusted over – usually about five days after the spots first appeared.
  • If they have symptoms of Covid-19 including a high temperature, and they don’t feel well enough to go to school or do normal activities.
  • If your child has an ear infection and a high temperature or severe earache, keep them off school until they’re feeling better or the high temperature goes away.
  • If your child has impetigo, they’ll need treatment from a GP – usually antibiotics. Keep them off school until all the sores have crusted over and healed, or for 48 hours after they start antibiotic treatment.
  • If your child has scarlet fever, they’ll need treatment with antibiotics from a GP. Otherwise they’ll be infectious for two to three weeks. Children can go back to school 24 hours after starting antibiotics, providing they feel well enough, according to the NHS.

When you can send your child to school

  • If they have a minor cough or cold. But if they have a fever/high temperature, keep them off.
  • If they have a sore throat. But if they have a fever/high temperature, keep them home until it goes away.
  • If they have a cold sore. Encourage them not to touch the blister, kiss anyone or share things like cups and towels.
  • If they have conjunctivitis. Encourage your child not to rub their eyes and to wash their hands regularly. Parents are encouraged to seek advice from a pharmacist too.
  • If they have mild symptoms of Covid-19 and feel well enough, they can go to school.
  • If your child has hand, foot and mouth disease but seems well enough to go to school, there’s no need to keep them off, according to the NHS.
  • If they have ringworm they can go to school once they’ve started treatment. The advice is: see your pharmacist about treatment unless it’s on their scalp, in which case they should see a GP.
  • If they have slapped cheek syndrome (fifth disease) they can go to school because once the rash appears, they’re no longer infectious. That said, if you suspect your child has slapped cheek syndrome, take them to see a GP and let their school know if they’re diagnosed with it.
  • If your child has threadworms they can go to school. But do speak to a pharmacist who can recommend treatment.
  • If they have head lice.

The UKHSA’s Prof Hopkins added that helping children to learn about the importance of good hand hygiene is also key with various illnesses circulating.

She encouraged parents to practise regular hand-washing at home with soap and warm water, as well as catching coughs and sneezes in tissues and then binning them.

“Adults should also try to stay home when unwell and if you do have to go out, wear a face covering,” she said.

People who are unwell should not visit healthcare settings or vulnerable people “unless urgent,” she said.

Those who are eligible for free flu vaccines can still get them from pharmacies and GP practices. The UKHSA stressed it is “the best protection against the virus”.

So far this season there has been good uptake in older age groups but vaccination among young children remains low.