Is your child fit for school?

You’ve bought the new uniform, done the official tour and labelled everything from bookbags to PE kit. But one of the most important things to prepare doesn’t appear on an equipment list – your child’s health. In these times of uncertain health issues, it’s more important than ever to make sure your child is in in tip-top condition for school. Check out our health to-do list.



Apart from the standard check given to babies, children are unlikely to have had a hearing test before they start school. So if you do have any concerns, now is the time to visit your GP. Undiagnosed hearing loss can seriously affect a child’s confidence, speech development and literacy.

Warning signs It can be tricky to tell the difference between a child who can’t hear and a child who isn’t listening! Ask yourself: do they want the TV louder than their brothers and sisters? Do you get a response when you call them? Is their speech developing normally? If you’re out playing at the park and call for them, do they have to look around to see which direction you are in?

What next? Your health visitor and GP can both refer you to a hearing clinic where your child’s hearing will be tested. The commonest reason for a child to have a temporary hearing loss is glue ear – a build-up of fluid behind the eardrum which follows a cold or, flu or ear infection. It’s estimated that one in five pre-schoolers has it. Luckily, glue ear can be cured with a simple operation. Other causes of hearing loss include genetic conditions, a side effect of meningitis, measles and mumps, or head injury. For more advice and information, visit the National Deaf Children’s Society at ndcs.org.uk


A child’s visual development is complete by the age of eight, so it’s vital to get vision problems sorted out as soon as possible. Yet very few five-year-olds in the UK have had an eye examination.

Warning signs You can pick up some vision problems – such as a squint – by watching your child and looking at his eye movements. Other conditions, such as long or short-sightedness, are invisible and your child is unlikely to realise by himself that there’s a problem.

If you have a history of vision problems such as short sight, it’s a good idea to get your child checked. Also look out for things like headaches, screwing up their eyes to see things, or getting bored quickly with reading tasks.

What next? If you have any concerns, take your child straight to the optician. Many parents think that you can’t have a child’s eyes tested until they can read. But there are plenty of ways that they can find out how well a child can see – for example, by using pictures rather than letters. Eye tests for children are free on the NHS. It’s very sensible to have them screened before school as visual difficulties can hinder intellectual and social development and even lead to behavioural problems.


This is, of course, a huge health issue right now, and your child may already be quite aware of the need for repetitive hand washing to avoid Covid-19. Still, it’s worth repeating again and again – good hand hygiene is your child’s best bet of avoiding nasty illnesses, including Covid. Hands should be washed:

  • after using the toilet.
  • before and after handling raw foods like meat and vegetables.
  • before eating or handling food.
  • after blowing the nose, sneezing or coughing.
  • after touching animals, including pets, their food and after cleaning their cages

Warning signs If your child seems particularly prone to bugs, it could be a sign that he’s skipping regular handwashing.

What next? A good hygiene routine needs to be repeated over and over again until children remember it. They should wash their hands in warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds (try getting them to sing Happy Birthday twice!) All kinds of germs are spread when kids don’t wash their hands properly after going to the toilet. Chief among these are the vomiting bugs norovirus and rotovirus – in addition to Covid 19, of course! Likewise, nasty cough, cold and flu viruses are spread by droplet infection, when someone coughs or sneezes and expels the germs into the air. By teaching children to wash their hands after going to the loo, and to cough and sneeze into a tissue, you’re not just doing them a favour, you’re helping to keep everyone else they come into contact with healthy too.


Starting school can be an anxious time if your child has a food allergy, so work with the school to allay your fears.

Warning signs If children are diagnosed at a young age, they should hopefully be fairly aware of what they can and can’t eat by the time they begin school. You need to work on that awareness and help them make the right food choices.

What next Schools should draw up an individual protocol for children with food allergies, which should involve parents, the school, the child’s doctor and the education authority. This should include symptoms, medication, what to do in an emergency and food management.

Don’t be afraid to ask the school what policies they already have in place – is there a nut ban? What first aid training do staff have? Have they dealt with any other children with a food allergy? If you haven’t already let the school know about your child’s allergy, get in touch straight away. For more information, visit www.anaphylaxis.org.uk.


Most children find the first few terms of school very tiring. So before school starts is a good time to sort out any sleep issues.

Warning signs Lack of sleep affects concentration and mood. If children are tired and grouchy during the day, they may well find school more difficult.

What next Many of us cling to the hope that starting school will tire children out so much that they will forego the bedtime battles. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and children simply end up being over-tired and fighting sleep even more.

So try bringing bedtime forward gradually by 10 minutes a day. Encourage children to lie quietly in bed even if they don’t feel like sleeping – audiobooks are great for this. Put a bedtime routine in place – supper, bath, milk, story, bedtime. You could even use a sticker chart and give children a reward for every evening they go quietly to sleep.

Beat the first-term bugs!

Some nasty little bugs absolutely love schools – all those children in close proximity! Be on the lookout for these unpleasant characters…

Headlice are tiny grey-brown insects that live in hair. They spread via head-to-head contact and they’re not a sign of being ‘dirty’. Their bites can cause itching. Check your child’s hair regularly and get a special shampoo and nit comb from the chemist if you find anything.

Threadworms are tiny white worms that lay eggs around the anus and cause itching. They are spread when the infected person touches his bottom and doesn’t wash his hands afterwards. If your child complains of an itchy bottom, you can buy over-the-counter worming treatment from your chemist. The whole family will need treating and you’ll need to make sure your children are washing their hands really thoroughly after using the loo.

Verrucas are warts on the soles of your feet – usually a white spot with a black dot in the middle. They are caused by a virus which is spread by contact – for example, when someone with a verruca steps on a wet floor. Many verrucas fall off by themselves but you can get over-the-counter treatments from the pharmacy to try and burn them off. Your child will need to wear a protective sock for swimming or PE until the verucca has gone.


Don’t forget to check your child is up to date with all those important jabs. Here’s a summary:

8 weeks

6-in-1 vaccine
Rotavirus vaccine

12 weeks

6-in-1 vaccine (2nd dose)
Pneumococcal (PCV) vaccine
Rotavirus vaccine (2nd dose)

16 weeks

6-in-1 vaccine (3rd dose)
MenB (2nd dose)

1 year

Hib/MenC (1st dose)
MMR (1st dose)
Pneumococcal (PCV) vaccine (2nd dose)
MenB (3rd dose)

2- 10 years

Flu vaccine every year

3 years and 4 months

MMR (2nd dose)

4-in-1 pre-school booster


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