Will UK schools close due to heatwave? Latest on school closures - as Met Office issues red weather warning

The Met Office has said that the heatwave may peak over the weekend and early next week and has now issued an red weather warning

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In the UK, people are currently experiencing some of the hottest weather in living memory and the Met Office has now issued the first ever red heatwave warning.

The heatwave, which began on Thursday 7 July, looks set to continue, and it has been reported that Sunday 17 July will be the hottest day the UK has ever seen.

The Met Office has even warned of a possibility that temperatures in Britain may reach 40°C by mid-July.

This has led to many parents questioning whether or not their child’s school may shut if temperatures continue to soar.

Here’s what you need to know.

This is how warm in needs to be  in the UK for schools to close and pupils to be sent home.This is how warm in needs to be  in the UK for schools to close and pupils to be sent home.
This is how warm in needs to be in the UK for schools to close and pupils to be sent home.

Will schools close in the heatwave?

Schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland have already closed for the summer holiday break, but pupils in England and Wales are still due to attend lessons until Friday 22 July.

There isn’t any specific law around school closures during heatwaves, so it remains unclear whether or not schools will shut their doors due to the red weather warning.

It is, therefore, likely to fall to individual schools in England and Wales to make a decision about whether or not to close their doors early for the summer break due to the heat.

The Department for Education issued a statement on Thursday 14 July which read: “We aren’t advising schools to close during high temperatures, but school leaders should make sure they take any steps necessary to make sure children are safe and comfortable.”

This was before the extreme weather warning was issued on the morning of Friday 15 July, but a Department for Education spokesperson confirmed on the afternoon of 15 July that there is no change to this guidance yet in light of the warning.

The spokesperson said: “There is clear Government guidance available online to help school staff look after children in the hot weather, including the use of ventilation, keeping children hydrated, and avoiding vigorous physical activity for pupils.

“Individual school leaders are responsible for managing their own local circumstances, but we are not advising schools to close.”

What does the law say?

Employers have a legal obligation to ensure that the temperature in the workplace is “reasonable”, as outlined by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

In addition, it is also the duty of employers to ensure that the air in the office is clean and fresh for their staff.

The same principles can be applied to the temperatures and conditions in the classroom for children, and schools do follow the same regulations.

How hot does it have to be before pupils can leave their classroom?

The government hasn’t set a specific temperature that schools or workplaces have to reach before pupils and workers are allowed to go home.

Efforts have, however, been made in the past to put one into place.

In 2006, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) released a briefing that highlighted the temperatures that it believes should be maintained in various workplaces for the health and safety of workers.

It said that it believes a maximum temperature of 30C should be set by employers, but that it should be reduced to a maximum of 27C for those doing strenuous work.

The TUC added that employers should still aim to keep temperatures below 24C and take note if employees say they are uncomfortable because of the temperature.

Again, the same principles can be applied to classrooms and students.

Have any schools said they will close?

In light of the extreme weather warning, some schools across the UK have taken the decision to shut their doors early to try to protect the health of their pupils and staff.

It’s thought that many more schools could soon do the same, as classrooms across the country get even hotter, according to The Sun.

Three primary schools in Herefordshire have warned parents that their kids will “not be allowed outside to play”.

They say PE lessons will not take place on Monday or Tuesday during the peak temperatures.

The schools, Marlbrook, Little Dewchurch and St Martin’s Primary School, also say they are giving parents the option to keep their kids home on Monday, reports The Telegraph.

Meanwhile Hereford Academy is taking a European approach by changing their timetable to avoid the heat.

They will start classes at 8.30am and children will leave school 2pm.

Clapton Girls’ Academy, in east London, will also close for the day at 12.30pm on Monday and Tuesday.

What should schools do to make sure their classrooms are safe to work in?

There are a number of things that can be done in schools to ensure the conditions are safe and comfortable for pupils to do their work.

Once again, school bosses can look to some guidelines set out for workplaces to help them look after their staff and students.

According to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), employers should carry out a risk assessment for the health and safety of their workers in order to determine whether the workplace is a safe environment in which to work.

The HSE states that employers must take six factors into account when assessing whether their workplace is safe to work in.

They are air temperature, radiant temperature, air velocity, humidity, what clothing they wear and the average rate at which they work.

The HSE has also created a thermal comfort checklist, which it recommends employers ask employees to fill out in order to determine if they’re experiencing discomfort relating to high temperatures.

If people are working outdoors, it’s the employer’s responsibility to introduce rest breaks for them and encourage them to hydrate regularly.

If people usually wear business clothes to work, then it is advised that employers allow them to adopt a casual dress code for their comfort during hot weather.

Translating this advice into a school environment may mean ensuring children are drinking plenty of water, especially during their break times or during physical education lessons when they are outside, and also relaxing school uniform rules.

When will the heatwave end?

The Met Office’s long-range forecast states that the heatwave is expected to continue until at least early next week.

“Through the weekend and early next week, sunny and dry conditions will prevail for most under the influence of high pressure, though showers are likely across the north-west at times.

“Away from the North West, temperatures will rise through the weekend, with most areas becoming very warm or hot by Sunday, with the potential for an exceptionally hot spell in parts of central, south, or east England.

“Thundery showers are occasionally possible in the south and south-west too, spreading erratically northwards and eastwards.”

“It is uncertain how long the very hot weather will last, but it is likely that much of the UK will see a return to cooler and more widely unsettled conditions during the week.”