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NASPM: Guidance on High Temperatures in Schools

Statutory provisions

Although it is generally accepted that people work best at a temperature between 16°C and 24°C, there are no specific legal maximum working temperatures for schools, offices or other workplaces.

However, Under The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, employers are required to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their staff and others present in the workplace (e.g. pupils). Regulation 7 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 requires employers to ensure that temperatures in workplaces should be 'reasonable' although it does not specify a maximum reasonable temperature. This means employers have a legal obligation to protect against excessive temperatures.

These legal requirements can be enforced by Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors who may issue legally binding notices to employers obliging them to comply with the requirements

Health risks from heat

Children cannot control their body temperature as efficiently as adults during hot weather because they do not sweat as much and so can be at risk of ill health from heat. Heat-related illness can range from mild heat stress to potentially life-threatening heatstroke. The main risk from heat is dehydration (not having enough water in the body). If sensible precautions are taken children are unlikely to be adversely affected by hot conditions, however, teachers, assistants, school nurses and all child carers should look out for signs of heat stress, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Heat stress

Children suffering from heat stress may seem out of character or show signs of discomfort and irritability (including those listed below for heat exhaustion). These signs will worsen with physical activity and if left untreated can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

Heat exhaustion

Symptoms of heat exhaustion vary but include one or more of the following:

  • tiredness
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • hot, red and dry skin
  • confusion


When the body is exposed to very high temperatures, the mechanism that controls body temperature may stop working. Heatstroke can develop if heat stress or heat exhaustion is left untreated, but it can also occur suddenly and without warning.

Symptoms of heatstroke may include:

  • High body temperature – a temperature of or above 40°C (104°F) is a major sign of heatstroke
  • Red, hot skin and sweating that then suddenly stops
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fast shallow breathing
  • Confusion/lack of coordination
  • Fits
  • Loss of consciousness

Actions to protect children suffering from heat illness

The following steps to reduce body temperature should be taken immediately:

  1. Move the child to as cool a room as possible and encourage them to drink cool water (such as water from a cold tap).
  2. Cool the child as rapidly as possible, using whatever methods you can. For example, sponge or spray the child with cool (25 to 30°C) water – if available, place cold packs around the neck and armpits, or wrap the child in a cool, wet sheet and assist cooling with a fan.
  3. Dial 999 to request an ambulance if the person doesn’t respond to the above treatment within 30 minutes.

If a child loses consciousness or has a fit, place the child in the recovery position, call 999 immediately and follow the steps above until medical assistance arrives.

Practical steps for school to take

  • Develop an emergency plan for hot temperatures or extreme weather

It is important that all schools have in place contingency plans to help staff and pupils cope with the heat. There is little that can be done to alleviate particular problems if schools do not plan in advance and also take note of the weather forecast for the week ahead

  • Ensure there are thermometers available in the workplace

The Workplace Regulations require that a sufficient number of thermometers should be available, at a convenient distance from any part of the workplace, to enable temperatures to be measured in any part of the workplace. They do not require a thermometer to be provided in every room. Alcohol, liquid crystal strips and digital thermometers can lose accuracy over time and should be used as a general guide

  • Introduce a properly designed air conditioning system into the building

In some buildings, this is not possible, either because of the age or type of the building or because of planning restrictions. A properly maintained air conditioning system is a very effective way of reducing temperatures. However, air conditioning systems are expensive and use a very high level of power; other more environmentally friendly solutions can also be considered.

  • Redesigning the work area

Often simply moving people away from windows, or reducing heat gain by installing reflective film or blinds to windows, can be a very effective way of keeping a workplace cooler.

  • The installation of fans or natural ventilation

Providing fans or windows that open can also help staff and pupils to cool down, although both these become less effective at higher temperatures. Portable air-cooling cabinets are also available, which are much more effective.

  • Development of shady areas over time

Either through the planting of trees or the construction of shelters in playgrounds.

  • Curtailing of certain heat-generating activities

For example, use of computers, Bunsen burners, ovens, design and technology equipment, strenuous physical activity in PE lessons etc., unless effective heat extraction measures can be put in place.

  • Provision of water coolers.
  • Permission to be given for pupils to drink water in classrooms
  • Reallocation of classes to cooler rooms whenever possible.
  • Relaxation of dress codes for staff and pupils.
  • Appropriate changes to the school lunch menu.
  • Ensuring that windows can be safely opened.
  • Installation of white blinds and/or reflective film on windows.
  • Use of portable air conditioning units in the worst affected classrooms/staff room (although these can be noisy).
  • Provision of suitably sized fans for those rooms which are not so badly affected.
  • Timetabling sports days for earlier in the summer term.
  • Consideration of the needs of pregnant teachers who will feel the effects of the heat more acutely than anyone else - for example, excusing them of playground duty.
  • Starting and finishing school early, if staff are happy with such an arrangement, provided that adequate notice has been given to parents.
  • Closing classrooms that are unacceptably hot and teaching classes elsewhere, or even sending pupils home. Remember to give reasonable notice to parents.

The requirement to take ‘all reasonable steps’ means that employers cannot use cost as an excuse, other than where the measures would be disproportionately expensive.

Check out our Schools and Academy Hot Weather risk assessment.

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