Lousy reason to miss lessons

18th June 2004 at 01:00
Almost half of parents whose children have headlice keep them away from school, despite government guidelines advising against this, a survey reveals.

It shows that three-quarters of parents have had to deal with headlice infestation brought into their homes by their children. Of these, 44 per cent keep infected children away from school, despite Department of Health recommendations advising otherwise.

The survey, conducted by Nice 'n Clear headlice shampoo, also reveals that one in 20 families says children have caught headlice more than 10 times.

Ian Burgess, director of the medical entomology centre, in Cambridge, believes a large number of schooldays are therefore missed unnecessarily.

He said: "Having headlice is no justification for missing school. There needs to be 20 or 30 seconds of head-to-head contact, before lice transfer.

It's unlikely to happen in the classroom.

"Besides, headlice are chronically endemic in the community. There will always be headlice in the classroom. So parents aren't protecting their own children, and they aren't protecting other children."

The survey questioned 383 parents with children aged between four and 17.

Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations, was sympathetic to parents who keep their children away from school.

She said: "Lice have a social stigma, so I suspect parents keep children off while they clear the problem. Also, cleaning and combing through overnight treatments is a bit of a palaver before school.

"But if every child with headlice was kept off school, some days no-one would be in."

Mrs Morrissey said schools should take a more active role in educating both children and parents: "Teachers need to talk to children, and ask them not to touch heads. They need to acknowledge there is a problem."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "The guidance is clear. Provided they are receiving appropriate treatment, there is no reason why pupils with headlice should not be at school."

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