Should I keep my child home from school?
Here’s a list of common childhood illnesses and their recommended exclusion periods.
For information on arrangements for schools in response to COVID-19, visit healthdirect’s COVID-19 pages.
What are school exclusions for health reasons?
Sometimes children must be kept away from school or childcare. This is called being ‘excluded’. It can happen if a child has a certain type of sickness.
Some sicknesses are caused by germs that can spread to other people. A person who is sick from these germs is sometimes ‘infectious. This means the germs can be spread from that person to someone else. A child may need to stay away from school or childcare if they are ‘infectious. Staying away can stop the germs spreading to other children or people in the community.
Read below to find out what happens if your child needs to be excluded (kept away) from school.
Who decides if the child will be excluded and how will I know?
Each state and territory have their own rules on school exclusion. These rules help reduce the chances of infection at schools and childcare centres.
The rules include ways to tell parents and carers what is happening. See ‘Further information’ below on the rules used in your state or territory.
How long will my child be excluded from school?
This depends on:
- the germ that causes their sickness
- how easily the germ can spread
- how long it takes for a person to show signs of illness
- how severe the illness is
Many schools have a written policy on staying away from school for health reasons. This policy is based on government guidelines for recommended minimum exclusion periods.
Sometimes other people will need to be excluded too. These other people have usually been in contact with a child who has the illness. They could be classmates of the child or a teacher.
Your school or childcare will let you know when you child can return. This depends on the type of illness. Different illnesses have different exclusion times.
Some useful terms
Infectious disease — an illness caused by a germ that can be spread from one person to another
Incubation period — the time between coming into contact with the germ and when the first signs of illness show
Infectious period — the time period when someone with an infectious disease can spread it to another person
Chain of infection — the steps that happen when germs are spread. They are:
- The germ comes from somewhere.
- The germ spreads from that place or person.
- The germ infects another person.
Exclusion period — the amount of time that your child will be asked to stay away from school. If your child is not infectious anymore, you can get a letter from a doctor or public health worker. You can give the letter to your school. Your school will let you know when your child can come back.
Notifiable disease — illnesses that the school needs to tell the government about. This is so they can watch for outbreaks. They can put plans in place to stop more infections.
When should I send my child back to school?
Your school will most likely have a written policy about how long someone should stay away. The policy should be based on national health guidelines. These guidelines protect other children and staff at the school.
Sometimes it can be difficult for a parent or carer to keep a child home. Parents and carers may be busy with work and other commitments. However, it is important for the school to have a policy and to make sure it is used properly.
Using guidelines can help slow or stop the germs spreading to the rest of the community.
What if I do not agree with the school's decision?
Your school may ask for a medical certificate from your doctor. Sometimes a medical certificate does not match the school's exclusion policy. In this case, the school may still ask for your child to stay at home.
It is your doctor’s job to say what is causing your child to be sick.
It is the school’s job to follow their exclusion guidelines to protect other children and staff.
If you have questions or concerns, you can phone your local public health unit. See the links below for more information on your state or territory exclusion guidelines.
More information about school exclusions in your state or territory can be found at:
- Australian Capital Territory: Outbreak Procedures and Exclusion Periods Policy
- New South Wales: Stopping the spread of childhood infections factsheet
- Victoria: School exclusion table
- Queensland: Disease prevention in education and care services
- Tasmania: What to do if your child is unwell and unable to go to school
- Northern Territory: Infectious diseases
- Western Australia: Communicable disease guidelines
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Last reviewed: September 2022