When should a sick child miss school

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Although serious illness makes attending school impossible, what are the guidelines on why, when and for how long a child should stay at home?

There are times when it's obvious that your child is simply too unwell to go to school - they are physically weak, in pain or clearly in a condition that could spread unwelcome germs around the class. However, sometimes in our rush to get them back to school, we might not give our children enough time to recover. Here are some easy to remember guidelines.

High temperature
If your child has a raised temperature, they should stay off school. A raised temperature in children is a reading over 37.5ºC - take a reading, then another an hour or so later in case the first reading was just an abnormal spike.

When can they go back to school? If the temperature subsides then it's fine to return your child to school the next day, where there are no other symptoms of concern.

Mild headaches can be caused by feeling a bit upset or tired, and should not be a cause for concern. If your child does not get better when they return from school that day, or if the headache gets worse, consult your GP.

When can they go back to school? A mild headache does not require your child to miss school.

Vomiting and diarrhoea
If your child is feeling sick or has tummy ache, but this passes, keep them rested and send them to school. You should, however, flag up any mild concern with the teacher and make sure the school has your contact details. If your child has actually been sick you will need to keep them off school for at least 24 hours, even if they appear to feel better after being sick. The same goes for an episode of diarrhoea, and in both cases even if they have no other signs of illness. Most cases pass with rest and rehydration, but if your child seems very unwell, contact your GP.

When can they go back to school? Your child cannot return to school until 24 hours have passed without further vomiting or diarrhoea. (In some schools this period is longer, it can be 48 hours.)

Cough, minor cold or sore throat
If your child only appears to be coughing, or complains of a sore throat but without other symptoms, then they are probably fine to go to school. If they develop a raised temperature, or are drowsy or get the shivers, keep them off school.

When can they go back to school? They can return 24 hours after the symptoms have all gone if they feel better.

NB - an irritated, dry cough that does not lead to illness but persists may be a sign of something else; in which case, talk to your GP. However, this kind of cough does not require your child to miss school.

Some children just get a heat rash, or they scratch an insect bite until it looks quite red and ‘angry'. However, in smaller children especially, chicken pox or measles can be a worry. If the rash is all over the torso and appears ‘lacey', it could be fifth disease (usually called ‘slapped cheek'). If in doubt, or the rash is accompanied by your child feeling rundown, hot or nauseous, keep your child off school and call your GP before sending them back.

When can they go back to school? With chickenpox, the spots may take a couple of weeks to disappear, but your child is fine to go back to school once the spots have crusted over and dried up completely. This tends to be around one week after the first spots appear, but it can vary.

Keep in touch with your child's school
If your child needs to stay at home, call the school's office to let them know, as early as you can that day. If the school does not get notification, it will be recorded as an ‘unauthorised absence'.

Check with your school what their policy is on certain illnesses and duration of recovery - most will be in line with the above. Also check if your school is happy with verbal notification, or if they prefer to get a letter for their files, which can be handed in once your child is back at school.

If your child is very ill or off for some time, the school may request a GP's letter - check with the school office for the relevant guidelines.


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