Winter infections

Advice for schools and colleges managing illness and absence. 

The prevalence of the new JN.1 variant of Covid-19 has risen in recent weeks so schools must help minimise the spread and keep staff and pupils safe. Follow these simple steps to reduce absence and lost learning.

What should schools and colleges be doing to reduce the risk of illness and absence?

Key points for schools/colleges to act upon are as follows:

  • Request that parents/carers inform the setting of infectious disease cases and that ill pupils and staff stay home until well. DfE has advice on length of absence for specific diseases. Staff may be reluctant to take sick leave if many other colleagues are already sick, but presenteeism will only fuel further absence, disruption to education and ultimately contribute to more pressure on the NHS. Schools can create a supportive environment by not counting periods of absence linked to these winter infections towards triggers for support plans and absence management procedures.
  • Reinstate enhanced cleaning regimes of surfaces and touch points. This includes door handles, toilet flushes, taps and other communal touch areas. For younger children consider temporarily removing hard to clean soft toys and making sure children do not share drinks.
  • Encourage good hand and respiratory hygiene practices. Hand washing is one the most effective ways to stop germs from spreading. Regularly washing hands in soap and warm water for 20 seconds or using hand sanitiser can help everyone to stay well and not pass on germs.
  • Share information with parents/carers about immunisation programmes for eligible groups, including Covid-19 and flu. You can read about who is eligible on the NHS UK website. Allow eligible staff paid time off work to get their Covid-19 booster and/or flu shot.
  • Ensure occupied spaces are well-ventilated with fresh air (whilst also balancing thermal comfort). This also aids concentration and learning.  Monitoring carbon dioxide levels in all classrooms can help achieve this balance. All classrooms should now have one and they should be used. Schools should be working to keep CO2 levels below 800 ppm. See joint unions ventilation guidance.
  • Support any member of staff who wishes to wear a face covering and make FFP2 masks available to staff at greater risk.
  • Provide support for any staff who, for medical reasons or because of pregnancy, are vulnerable through individual risk assessments.

See the UK Health Security Agency guidance on winter illnesses for further details.

If you are having any issues with your school on these matters, please urgently contact your NEU rep/health and safety rep or, if you are not sure who this is, your branch/district Contact us | NEU.

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