Looking after children (in school & childcare settings) during heatwaves
Public Health England provides advice on looking after children in school and childcare settings. The advice given here should be followed during periods of hot weather to ensure children are protected. It is intended for teachers, school nurses, assistants and others looking after children in schools, nurseries, Sure Start children’s centres and other early years settings, including child minders. It will also be of use to those involved in the provision of before or after-school childcare, clubs and to parents.
- On very hot days (ie temperatures in excess of 30°C), children should avoid vigorous physical activity.
- Children should be encouraged to stay in the shade as much as possible.
- Loose, light-coloured clothing should be worn to help children keep cool and hats of a closed construction with wide brims should be worn to avoid sunburn.
- Thin clothing or sun cream should be used to protect skin if children are outdoors for more than 20 minutes.
- Children must be encouraged to drink more than usual and provided with plenty of cool water – water from the cold tap is adequate for this purpose.
Take measures to avoid classrooms and other teaching spaces becoming unnecessarily hot:
- Windows and other ventilation openings should be opened during the cool of early morning or preferably overnight to allow stored heat to escape. It is important to check insurance conditions and the need for security if windows are to be left open overnight.
- When the outdoor air becomes warmer than the air indoors, windows and other ventilation openings should not be closed, but their openings reduced. This should help keep rooms cool whilst allowing adequate ventilation. Ensure open windows are safe and not accessible to children.
- Use outdoor sun awnings if available, or indoor blinds, but do not let solar shading devices block ventilation openings or windows.
- Keep the use of electric lighting to a minimum during heatwaves.
- All electrical equipment, including computers, monitors and printers should be switched off when not in use and should not be left in ‘standby mode’. Electrical equipment, when left on, or in ‘standby’ mode generates heat.
Maintaining children’s health during hot weather conditions
Encourage children to eat normally and drink plenty of cool water – water from the cold tap is adequate for this purpose. Other suggested actions include:
- Rearrange school start and finish times to avoid teaching during very hot conditions.
- Use classrooms or other spaces less likely to overheat and adjust the layout of teaching spaces to avoid direct sunlight on children.
- Oscillating mechanical fans can be used to increase air movement, ensuring child safety.
Which children are likely to be most affected by high temperatures?
Children’s susceptibility to high temperatures varies, those who may be at increased risk of adverse effects include:
- those who are overweight or taking medication
- children under four years of age
- some children with disabilities or complex health needs.
The school nurse, health visitor or the child’s specialist health professional may be able to advise on the particular needs of the individual child. Schools need to provide for children’s individual needs. Support staff should be made aware of the risks and how to manage them.
Actions to take if heat stress or heat exhaustion is suspected
If sensible precautions are taken children are unlikely to be adversely affected by hot conditions. However teachers, assistants and school nurses should be aware of signs of heat stress and heat exhaustion.
Heat stress – Children suffering from heat stress will show general signs of discomfort (including those listed below for heat exhaustion). These signs will worsen with physical activity or if left untreated and can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion – Signs of heat exhaustion include the following: irritability, tiredness, dizziness, headache, nausea, and hot, red and dry skin.
Heatstroke – Sweating is an essential means of cooling and once this stops a child is at serious risk of developing heatstroke. Heatstroke can develop if heat exhaustion or heat stress is left untreated, but it can also occur suddenly and without warning.
If a child shows signs of confusion, the following steps to reduce body temperature should be taken at once.
- Move the child to as cool a room as possible.
- Sponge the child with cool, (not cold) water and, if available, place cold packs around the neck and in the armpits.
- Place the child near a fan.
If a child loses consciousness, place the child in the recovery position and follow the steps above. In both cases, call 999 or 112 for emergency medical assistance.
The school sun policy should include the provision for requesting permission from parents and guardians to allow their child to have their face, arms and legs sponged with cool water if heatstroke is suspected.