“Mum, please don’t make me go to school today? I don’t feel well.”
Does this sound heart-sinkingly familiar? Of course, as a parent you know your child best; when it’s a real illness or when they are simply over-tired or feeling overwhelmed by the day ahead.
When you’re working or have plans for the day, a sick child can really throw a spanner in the works. Plus, first thing in the morning in the rush of dressing, breakfast and getting out the door, you can feel pressed to make the right judgement call of whether your child is sick enough to stay off school.
To add to the pressure, many schools keen to push up their attendance levels to Ofsted satisfactory levels advise parents to send their children into school even if they are suffering from common ailments.
But ultimately you’re the parent and you’re the one responsible for your child’s health and happiness, so it’s your call on how ill your child really is.
Bottom line, ask yourself these three questions:
Are they well enough to take part in lessons and activities during the school day? If not, keep your child at home.
Do they have a condition that could be passed on to other children or school staff? If so, keep your child at home until the infectious period has passed.
Would I take a day off work if I had these symptoms? If so, keep your child at home.
You’ll know best if something is seriously wrong with your child’s health, but the NHS has a useful guide to serious illness in children and when to seek medical help. But in most cases, your child will just need some parental TLC and, after a day or two cocooned on the sofa with a constant supply of films and drinks, will be raring to go back to school.
Tell the school
If your child has to miss school due to illness, you need to call the school first thing in the morning so the reason for their absence is recorded. Once they return to school, you will need to send a signed letter explaining the illness and the dates missed.
Schools are a germ-fest, with children at close quarters passing round bugs. If there’s something going round the school, whether it’s a particularly snotty cold or an impressive vomiting bug, chances are your child will fall prey too - and then the rest of the family!
Sick enough to stay off school?
Cough and cold
A child with a minor cough or cold can attend school. But if the cold comes with flu symptoms of a raised temperature (38°C or above), shivers or drowsiness, then it’s best to keep your child at home. If your child has a more severe and long-lasting cough, consult your GP.
If your child has a raised temperature, they shouldn’t attend school. They can return 24 hours after they start to feel better.
A child with a minor headache doesn’t usually need to be kept off school. If the headache is more severe or is accompanied by other symptoms, such as raised temperature or drowsiness, then keep the child off school and consult your GP.
Vomiting and diarrhoea
Children with diarrhoea and/or vomiting should definitely be kept off school until at least 48 hours after their symptoms have gone. Most cases of diarrhoea and vomiting in children get better without treatment, but if symptoms persist, consult your GP. Keep them hydrated.
A sore throat alone doesn’t have to keep a child from school. But if it’s accompanied by a raised temperature, your child should stay at home.
If your child has chickenpox, keep them off school until all their spots have crusted over.
Cold sores and impetigo
You don’t need to keep your child off school if they have cold sores. Just give the appropriate treatment and tell them not to share drinking bottles or cutlery with other kids. If your child has impetigo keep your child off school until the lesions are crusted and healed or 48 hours after starting antibiotics.
If every child with nits was off school, some classes would be empty. Obsessive combing and treatment as soon as you notice an outbreak is sufficient.
Other reasons to want to miss school
If you notice a pattern of your child claiming to be ill, especially on Sunday night or Monday morning as the week ahead looms, it may be worth investigating if there are other underlying issues that mean they are dreading school, like bullying or friendship issues.