The role of parents in reducing the transmission of infectious diseases in schools


Supervisor: Dr James Rubin

Non-accademic partner: Public Health England

Certain infectious diseases, including flu and diarrhoea or vomiting, spread readily among school children. To combat this, Public Health England has produced recommendations about the length of time children should be kept off school when sick. Unfortunately, these recommendations are often not followed: evidence suggests that one in six parents in England would send their child to school even if they had diarrhoea or vomiting. In this PhD, we will use interviews and focus groups with parents to understand why sick children are sent to school, and what can be done to discourage this.

We will then develop new advice for parents which we hope will increase the chances of parents keeping their children out of school when sick. To test this, we will recruit a large group of parents, and ask each parent to read either our new advice or existing messages about sickness in school children. They will then be asked to imagine that their child wakes up tomorrow with diarrhoea and to say whether they would be likely to send them to school or not. Reducing the number who would send their child to school by even a small percentage could have important public health benefits.

The project is a partnership between psychologists at King’s College London and public health experts at Public Health England, and will be based in the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response. If our new intervention is successful, we hope to change the advice provided to schools and parents, and to reduce the number of children who are sent to school while ill.