Absence from school

When your child is unwell, it can be hard deciding whether to keep them off school. A few simple guidelines can help.

Not every illness needs to keep your child from school. If you keep your child away from school, be sure to inform the school on the first day of their absence.

Use common sense when deciding whether or not your child is too ill to attend school. Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Is your child well enough to do the activities of the school day? If not, keep your child at home.
  • Does your child have a condition that could be passed on to other children or school staff? If so, keep your child at home.
  • Would you take a day off work if you had this condition? If so, keep your child at home.

Common conditions

If your child is ill, it's likely to be due to one of a few minor health conditions.

Whether you send your child to school will depend on how severe you think the illness is. This guidance can help you make that judgement.

Remember: if you're concerned about your child’s health, consult a health professional.

  • Cough and cold. A child with a minor cough or cold may attend school. If the cold is accompanied by a raised temperature, shivers or drowsiness, the child should stay off school, visit the GP and return to school 24 hours after they start to feel better. If your child has a more severe and long-lasting cough, consult your GP. They can give guidance on whether the child should stay off school. Get more information in Common cold.
  • Raised temperature. If your child has a raised temperature, they shouldn't attend school. They can return 24 hours after they start to feel better. Learn more in Feverish illness in children.
  • Rash. Rashes can be the first sign of many infectious illnesses, such as chickenpox and measles. Children with these conditions shouldn't attend school. If your child has a rash, check with your GP or practice nurse before sending them to school.
  • Headache. 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 these conditions should be kept off school. They can return 48 hours after their symptoms disappear. Most cases of vomiting or diarrhoea get better without treatment, but if symptoms persist, consult your GP. Learn more in Rotavirus gastroenteritis.
  • Sore throat. A sore throat alone doesn't have to keep a child from school. If it's accompanied by a raised temperature, the child should stay at home.

You can read more about medicines for children's common health problems in Medicines for children.

You can get help identifying common childhood illnesses by using the Childhood illness slideshow.

Tell the school

It’s important to inform the school if your child is going to be absent. On the first day of your child's illness, telephone the school to tell them that your child will be staying at home. The school may ask about the nature of the illness and how long you expect the absence to last.

If it becomes clear that your child will be away for longer than expected, phone the school as soon as possible to explain this.

Page last reviewed: 10/10/2012

Next review due: 10/10/2014

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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

faithnirvana said on 07 May 2013

At our local GP, you have to make afternoon appointments 2 weeks in advance. The only way to be seen on the day is to turn up at 8am and wait until about 10am to be seen. I would not inflict every single school child with a cold or the flu onto a waiting room of already sick patients. There is nothing a GP can do for a cold or flu anyway so why bring them?

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