The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has increased the heat-health alert for England to level 4 – the highest possible, and the Met Office has issued  the first ever red warning for large parts of England for Monday and Tuesday (with an amber warning in place for Sunday) The first Red Extreme heat warning issued. – Met Office

The ‘red warning’  level means a “national emergency”. It is “reached when a heatwave is so severe and/or prolonged that its effects extend outside the health and social care system. At this level, illness and death may occur among the fit and healthy, and not just in high-risk groups.”  Under the alert system it also states “substantial changes in working practices and daily routines will be needed.”

What does it mean for schools and early years settings?

As this extreme heat constitutes a serious hazard, all schools and early years settings in affected areas must carry out a thorough risk assessment, and take whatever reasonably practicable measures are indicated to control the risk.   The risk assessment must also cover any outdoor activities, and risks associated with travelling to and from school. It must also take into account increased demand on the NHS and ambulance service which risks affecting any response times and attendance in the event of pupils or staff becoming unwell.

Schools and early years settings have the authority and responsibility to take whatever steps they deem necessary to keep pupils and staff safe. This could include partial closure, so that only rooms that are shaded (such as north facing) are used, reduced operating times, or  full closure, and we would support schools/early years settings in taking that decision if they believed it to be best decision to keep pupils and staff safe.

In addition any staff who are classed as vulnerable, including pregnant employees, should have an individual risk assessment and additional reasonable adjustments (for example working from home or being at home  – on full pay) will be needed.  It is important to remember however, that the dangers are not limited to just the most vulnerable; extreme heat risk also applies to ‘healthy’ individuals under the warning that has been declared.

UNISON has produced the following information for members.  The Department for Education (DfE) has also issued guidance: Looking after children and those in early years settings during heatwaves: for teachers and professionals – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

If you have not had any communication from your school or early years setting please contact them urgently to ask what their plans are for Monday and Tuesday. If you have concerns around their response please immediately contact the branch on 01785 245000.