College co-signs letter from Chief Medical Officer on school attendance and health

College Council recently approved ‘five principles to promote school attendance’, and today, we have signed a letter with the Chief Medical Officer in England and leading health professionals on school attendance and mild illness. We hope this letter will support GPs in their work with families, including when it is fine for children and young people to attend school with a mild illness, such as a minor cough or cold.

You can read the full letter below:

Dear colleagues,

As children and young people return to school this week, we have been asked by the Department for Education to provide parents and carers with a clinical and public health perspective on mild illnesses and school attendance.

As we are all acutely aware, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have stretched well beyond the health sector. In particular, we have seen a rise in school absences, with a large proportion attributable to illness.

We are aware that the COVID-19 pandemic may have caused some parents to feel less confident with assessing whether their child is well enough to be in school and be concerned that it is less socially acceptable to send their child in when they are ill.

There is wide agreement among health professionals and educational professionals that school attendance is vital to the life chances of children and young people. Being in school improves health, wellbeing and socialisation throughout the life course. The greatest benefits come from children and young people attending school regularly.

We, as a profession, need to work alongside our colleagues in education to address health-related barriers to school attendance and maximise the short and longer-term benefits of being in school.

The NHS has produced the ‘is my child too ill for school’ guidance to support parents in their decision-making and we would encourage you to share this with your practices and patients. In most cases you can reassure parents and carers that it is appropriate to send children to school with upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) symptoms, provided they don’t have a temperature.

In addition to respiratory illnesses, we are aware that after the worst of the pandemic more children may be absent from school due to symptoms of anxiety. Parents often need reassurance that worry and mild or moderate anxiety, whilst sometimes difficult emotions, can be a normal part of growing up for many children and young people. Being in school can often help alleviate the underlying issues. A prolonged period of absence is likely to heighten their children’s anxiety about attending in the future, rather than reduce it. We ask you to continue supporting families to build up children’s confidence to attend school regularly and to encourage those who are experiencing persistent symptoms to access additional support.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) recently approved ‘five principles to promote school attendance’. We hope this guidance will support you in having conversations with your patients and their families about school attendance.

Thank you for your continued commitment to supporting the health and wellbeing of children and young people.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Chris Whitty - Chief Medical Officer for England
Professor Kamila Hawthorne - Chair, Royal College of General Practitioners
Pat Cullen - General Secretary, Royal College of Nursing
Dr Camilla Kingdon - President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
William Roberts - Chief Executive, Royal Society for Public Health
Dr Lade Smith - President, Royal College of Psychiatrists

Further information

RCGP Press office: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 54,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.