How hot does it have to be to shut schools?

·2-min read
While Brits swelter in this week’s heatwave, schools remain open (Getty Images)
While Brits swelter in this week’s heatwave, schools remain open (Getty Images)

The UK is facing scorching weather this week as temperatures reach 34C on Friday, making it the hottest day of the year so far.

While Britons have been sweltering in the heatwave and a Level 3 Heat-Health alert has been issued for London, the East of England and the South East by UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), schools remain open.

So how hot does it have to be for schools to close?

According to the government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE), schools must follow the same health and safety laws for indoor temperatures as workplaces.

The UK is facing scorching weather this week as the temperatures reach 34C on Friday (Ben Birchall/PA)
The UK is facing scorching weather this week as the temperatures reach 34C on Friday (Ben Birchall/PA)

There is not currently any law around maximum working temperatures - though the World Health Organisation recommends a maximum temperature of 24°C.

But, employers do 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.

“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,” the HSE says.

Ultimately, the decision to close a school is up to the head teacher.

Brits flock to beaches during short but intense heatwave this week (PA)
Brits flock to beaches during short but intense heatwave this week (PA)

During a heatwave in 2006, dozens of schools in England shut as temperatures of 36C were recorded in classrooms.

The head teacher of Shenley Brook End School in Milton Keynes told BBC at the time that she closed the schools for pupils’ “protection”.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) have argued for special measures to be put in place to make classrooms more comfortable in hot weather.

The NUT had previously campaigned for a law change that would see schools closed if temperatures exceed 30C, citing excessive classroom temperatures as a “health and safety hazard” which may “aggravate existing medical conditions”.

A report by the union advises that in extreme heat schools should consider flexible teaching arrangements such as avoiding classrooms at the hottest hours of the day, or closing the school altogether.

According to the report, studies have shown that a 1C increase in temperature is linked to a two per cent decline in learning.

“The effects of extreme temperatures are even more striking when considering that each additional school day with a temperature in the 30s (°C) reduces pupil achievement by one sixth of a percent of a year’s worth of learning,” the report stated.

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