How cold does it have to be for schools to close?

The question many parents are asking as temperatures plunge

Five children holding hands and walking through the snow
(Image credit: Getty Images)

How cold does it have to be for schools to close? We look at the answer following the plunge in temperatures this winter.

The recent cold spell has divided residents in the UK, leaving some wondering when will it snow and others praying for it to get warmer in the UK. But for parents, the main concern is the likelihood of schools closing, and whether arrangements need to be made to allow their children to stay home. 

Just like the record temperatures of up to 40 degrees in the summer had people asking how hot does it have to be for schools to close - and now many are asking do you have to send your child to school on strike days - as another snowy spell is forecast with talks of a return of the 'Beast from the East', parents are also wondering how cold does it have to be for schools to close?

How cold does it have to be for schools to close?

The decision to close a school due to cold weather isn't related to the outside temperature, but the temperature inside the school instead. Schools must be able to heat classrooms to an acceptable minimum temperature, or close.

This means it's unlikely that a plunge in temperatures will result in your school closing. Instead, the most likely reason for a school being closed in cold weather is if there is a problem with the heating or plumbing, or is there is hazardous snow and/or ice in the area.

A school road sign covered in snow

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The decision whether to close a school due to snow and ice relates to the safety of students and staff - including whether the site itself is safe and whether people will be able to get to and from the school safely.

Government guidance explains that schools must follow the same health and safety laws for indoor temperatures as other workplaces, and that during working hours the temperature in all indoor workplaces must be reasonable. 

What temperature does a school have to be to close?

There is no specified minimum temperature for schools to close set out in law, as per the School Premises (England) Regulations 2012.

However, before October 2012 there was a legal minimum temperature of 18ºC inside schools, and this is still considered to be an appropriate minimum temperature by the National Education Union (NEU).

They add that the appropriate minimum temperatures where there are lower than normal levels of activity (such as sick rooms) or higher than normal levels of activity (like gymnasiums), are 21ºC and 15ºC respectively.

In addition, government guidance on workplace temperatures suggests a minimum of 16ºC - or 13ºC if employees are doing physical work - which suggests that these minimums should also apply for those who work in schools and therefore the pupils too.

How do I know if a school has closed because it's too cold?

Schools will usually publicly announce if they are closed, which could be done via their social media, on local radio, or they may send an email to parents.

You can also check if your child's school is closed by checking your local council's website, or using the school closures page, where you can input your school's postcode to check if it's closed.

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What are my rights if my child's school is closed?

If your child's school is closed, parents are usually entitled to unpaid time off to look after their children, though some companies will offer paid time off - so it's worth checking with your employer.

Polly O’Malley, partner at Stone King law firm, explains, "If your child’s school closes unexpectedly, you have the statutory right to take emergency leave to care for dependents."

She adds: "This doesn’t extend to all childcare situations but unforeseen circumstances, like your child’s school closing unexpectedly, would likely qualify. However, this is a right to unpaid leave.

"Your employer may have a policy on emergency leave - many do - and might grant a certain amount of paid leave, but in the absence of a policy or any other contractual right, the default is for this time to be unpaid."

She advises parents to check if your company has a policy in place, and have a conversation with your employer about what would work best in the event that your child's school is closed.

How long is the cold weather expected to last?

On Monday 6 February, the Met Office issued a cold weather alert that will stay in place until Wednesday 8 February. The is an extention of a previous cold weather alert that had been issued on Sunday.

They said: "Clear spells during the nights will allow temperatures to fall below freezing, with widespread frosts developing. Temperatures likely recovering during the days to near average for the time of year, but then quickly falling again into the evenings with some freezing fog likely to form in places alongside frosts redeveloping."

They added that such could conditions are less likely in northern areas than in the south, due to cloud pushing down from the north in the start of the week.

However, the weather service doesn't expect the cold conditions to persist beyond Wednesday, and the long-range weather forecast for the UK currently reads, "Generally settled weather conditions are expected across the UK." The forecast adds: "Temperatures overall will be above normal, with a small chance of colder conditions."

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Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.