How cold does it have to be for schools to close? School snow closures explained - UK weather temperature laws

When deciding whether to close a school, indoor temperatures are more important than outside ones

Some areas of Scotland are still experiencing disruption due to snow, and more is expected. Due to snow and icy conditions, more than 100 schools and nurseries in Shetland, the Highlands, and Aberdeenshire had to close on Tuesday (17 January).

As the the Met Office warns that snow and ice will continue to cause disruption across the UK with a cold snap set to last possibly until Friday (20 January), with a number of yellow weather warnings issued for areas in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, school closures could yet persist as the week wears on.

But how cold is too cold to open? Should you be sending your child out to school in the cold, if their place of learning has opted to remain open? Here is everything you need to know.

Why do schools close in the cold?

It’s worth bearing in mind that the decision to close a school due to cold weather typically has more to do with the temperature inside the building than it does with the outside temperature.

Schools are expected to be able to heat classrooms to an acceptable temperature, but that means that even if the outside temperatures seem unbearable, so long as classrooms and other indoor spaces are sufficiently heated, the school will likely remain open.

The most likely causes of a school closing in cold weather are a heating or plumbing issue, though of course if snowfall makes it hazardous for staff and pupils to travel to the school, the institution will likely close too.

Children enjoy a day off school with some sledging in February 2019 (Photo: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

Typically, schools will send out a notice to parents via email, local radio or their social media accounts if they are going to be closed.

Alternatively, you can use the gov.uk school closures page, where you can enter the postcode of your child’s school to see if it is closed, or you can check the website of your local council.

How cold is too cold to open a school?

In workplace law, employers are required to supply clean, fresh air and maintain a ‘comfortable’ temperature in accordance with health and safety at work regulations. That being said, there is no definitive temperature number set out in law that dictates when it may be too cold or hot to work.

Advice does recommend a minimum temperature of 16 or 13ºC if employees are performing physical labour. The government says: “Schools must follow the same health and safety law for indoor temperature as other workplaces.”

There was actually a legally binding minimum temperature that schools had to meet in the past: 18ºC. However, this was scrapped with the School Premises (England) Regulations 2012, though the National Education Union (NEU) continues to view this as an adequate minimum temperature.

They add that the ideal minimum temperatures for spaces with lower or higher than average activity levels (such sick rooms or gyms respectively) are 21°C and 15°C. But again, these temperatures are not legal requirements.

How long will the cold snap last?

According to the Met Office, the UK forecast for Tuesday 17 January and the week ahead currently looks like this:

  • Today: Rain and some snow in far southwest soon clearing. Scattered wintry showers in the west and north, with frequent heavy snow showers and gusty winds for northern Scotland. Good deal of dry and sunny weather elsewhere, but cold.
  • Tonight: Heavy sleet and snow showers with blizzards in the hills across northern half of Scotland, easing later. Else, occasional wintry showers in western and some central areas. Frosty inland.
  • Wednesday: Further wintry showers, chiefly in the north and west, although also some along North Sea coasts where it will be very windy for a time. Dry elsewhere with sunny periods.
  • Outlook for Thursday to Saturday: Wintry showers in parts of the north Thursday, mostly dry elsewhere. Rain in the west Friday spreading further north and east on Saturday. Cold at first, becoming milder later.

For more information, head to the Met Office’s website.