Teachers say it is ‘potentially dangerous’ to hold sports days during heatwave

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Pupils run during a PE lesson inside a sports hall (PA) (PA Archive)
Pupils run during a PE lesson inside a sports hall (PA) (PA Archive)

Teachers’ leaders said schools may cancel sports days to protect pupils and staff while a heatwave warning is in place next week.

The Met Office has issued an amber warning of extreme heat for Sunday 17 and Monday 18 July, with temperatures in the UK possibly climbing to over 35C in the South East.

“Population-wide adverse health effects are likely to be experienced, not limited to those most vulnerable to extreme heat, leading to potential serious illness or danger to life,” the forecaster said.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said the weather will make it “potentially dangerous” for youngsters to take part in physical activity in the sun.

Dr Bousted said: “Schools will prioritise safety and wellbeing.

“It is potentially dangerous to take part in vigorous physical activity in extreme heat, with the risk of heat exhaustion and even heat stroke.”

She said headteachers will be “checking the local weather forecast and using their professional judgment to cancel or reschedule any activities involving strenuous exercise so as to protect children and staff”.

James Bowen, policy director for school leaders’ union NAHT, said school leaders will be “thinking carefully” about how to keep pupils and staff as “safe and as comfortable as possible” as temperatures rise.

He added: “Whilst there is no legal ‘upper limit’ for temperature in schools, they will certainly be doing all they can to mitigate the effects of such high temperatures.”

Schools will make adjustments, such as limiting break times in the sun, ensuring pupils can access additional water, adjusting uniform expectations where appropriate and ventilating classrooms as well as they can, he said.

“Given that there is no specific upper limit on school temperatures, widespread closures would seem unlikely at this stage,” he said.

Sadly, in a small number of cases, schools may have no choice but to postpone. Obviously no-one wants to see this, but the safety of pupils and their families must come first and school leaders will pay close attention to official advice

James Bowen, NAHT

“No school will want to have to close after their experiences during the pandemic, so this would very much be a last resort. Such a decision would only be taken where absolutely necessary for the safety of all concerned and following a rigorous and thorough risk assessment.

“If, as it appears, warmer summers are going to become the norm, then Government really does need to give urgent thought to improving the state of school buildings.

“As we have learnt during the pandemic, too many are simply not fit for purpose with even basic ventilation being a challenge in some cases.

“Poorly ventilated classrooms are not only inconducive to work but, as we have seen, also the perfect environment for transmission of viruses.

“Whether it is air quality or extreme temperatures, it shouldn’t be too much to ask for school buildings that are conducive to learning all year round.”

Given how close it is to the end of term, most schools will have already had their sports days but in some cases, schools could shorten the length of the sports day or reduce the number of events taking place, Mr Bowen said.

“Sadly, in a small number of cases, schools may have no choice but to postpone. Obviously no-one wants to see this, but the safety of pupils and their families must come first and school leaders will pay close attention to official advice.”

The Government has released guidance on how to protect pupils from the heat.

The Department of Health and Social Care said that during periods of high temperature, children should not take part in “vigorous physical activity” on very hot days when the temperature is over 30C, and that children should wear loose and light-coloured clothes, and sunhats with wide brims, when playing outside.

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