Headteachers are seeing around a third of pupils absent from school as parents choose to keep children home during the hottest days forecast in the UK’s heatwave.
A number of schools are teaching remotely on Monday and Tuesday, when the Met Office is forecasting temperatures to soar into the high 30C and potentially even reach 40C for the first time.
Many are staying open in the scorching weather, with measures being introduced to keep children cool such as ditching normal uniform – either for PE kits or own clothes – or letting them go home early.
Headteachers whose schools have kept their doors open told The Independent they had been significant drop in attendance on Monday.
“We’re coping well and have adjusted the school day so that there is a reduction in overcrowded areas,” Alan Hodges from Denbigh Primary School in Luton said. “Attendance is down 30 per cent though.”
Another school leader, who wished to remain anonymous, said there had been a fall in attendance, with around 30 per cent of children missing in most year groups.
“We have made some mitigation against the heat but part of the building were built in the 60s so not meant to cope with this kind of temperature,” he said.
Kit Andrew, who runs a primary school in a central London, said around 25 per cent of pupils were off on Monday. “It is in Borough, so real urban heat island underneath the Shard,” he added.
Another headteacher in London said she had given parents the option to send children to school as normal, take them home early or keep them off for the whole day.
“We’ve got about 50 per cent in and another 15 per cent leaving at lunch,” she added.
Parents told The Independent they feel more confident keeping their children at home when the UK’s temperature is set to soar to potentially record-breaking levels.
Becky North said she would be keeping her nine-year-old daughter, Renée, at home in the extreme heat.
“My daughter’s school hasn’t set out any extra measures for coping with the heat other than saying children should bring water and sun hats in,” the 28-year-old from Burnley said.
She said: “I decided as it’s the last week of term, assessment week is out the way and they’re unlikely to be learning much, that it would be better for her to have a day at home where I can help monitor her temperature.”
It is the first time Renée has missed school for any other reason than illness. But with soaring temperatures, her parent said it “makes sense not to tempt fate and have her come home with heat exhaustion”.
Collette Elliott, a mother-of-two from Birmingham, said both of her children were off school on Monday.
“It is just too hot,” she said.
Ms Elliott says she feels more comfortable being able to look after her daughters herself in the heatwave. “I haven’t sent them in because I want to make sure my children are OK,” she said.
Her younger daughter, nine-year-old Codey, came home “crying and sick” last week after doing PE outside.
Her primary school is finishing early on Monday and Tuesday to accomodate for the heat, as many others are. “But they finish at 1pm, which is at the height of the heat,” Ms Elliott said.
Another parent, who wished to stay anonymous, said she decided to keep her eight-year-old son at home.
“I’m lucky as I have finished work for the summer holidays so as a parent I am able to make that decision,” she said.
His school is not equipped with air conditioning, she said. “In the extreme heat that’s expected for this country I don’t believe my son should be potentially sitting in a stiflingly hot classroom or outside,” she said.
The Met Office has warned the UK could see the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded broken twice within the next two days.
It has issued its first-ever “red warning” for extreme heat on Monday and Tuesday, which predicts “widespread impacts” to people and infrastructure and that temperatures pose a danger to life.
The first national emergency has also been declared over the heatwave by the UK Health and Security Agency, which warns, fit and healthy people could fall ill and even die due to the extreme heat.
James Bowen from the school leaders’ union NAHT said: “From what we’re hearing, it sounds like the large majority of schools have opened this morning and virtually all will be making adjustments of some description to help pupils and staff cope with the high temperatures.”
The policy director said adjustments will be specific to each school, but many have relaxed uniform rules, increased access to water and reducing time spent outdoors in the sun.
A number of schools shared images on social media of children with their feet in water while at their desks.
One school in Leeds taught children in a nearby church, according to the BBC.
“Schools will continue to closely monitor the situation over the next 24 hours,” Mr Bowen from NAHT added.
James Cleverly, the newly-appointed education minister, said at the weekend: “School is the best place for children and we are not telling them to close. We trust headteachers to use their judgement and ensure everyone is kept safe.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “There is clear government guidance available online to help school staff look after children in the hot weather, including the use of ventilation, keeping children hydrated, and avoiding vigorous physical activity for pupils.
“Individual school leaders are responsible for managing their own local circumstances, but we are not advising schools to close.”