Schools told not to warn parents about lice

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HEADTEACHERS have been told to stop sending warning letters to parents alerting them to outbreaks of head lice in schools.

According to the Scottish Executive, raising the alarm "stigmatises" infected children and could cause them long-term psychological damage.

But the advice, issued to headteachers across Scotland by the Department of Health and Community Care, has been criticised by teachers, parents and politicians, who say it "reeks of political correctness" and will only exacerbate the problem.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman David Davidson condemned the instruction as "total nonsense".

He said: "This is just another example of political correctness getting out of control. It is being put before the health of our children and just displays how ludicrous our government really is.

"Research has shown that head lice do not differentiate between social class or type of school. The best-groomed children with the best-groomed hair can still become infected."

Representatives of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council also voiced outrage at the "nonsensical" move.

Convener Steve McColl said: "All my children have had head lice at one time or another and there is no stigma attached to it.

"The Executive is showing a lack of common sense in putting this forward.

"The only way we can stop people believing there is a stigma is to bring it out into the open and talk about it.

"This policy simply does not make any sense. If parents are not kept informed, the infection will just spread more easily."

Head lice are common in primary schools across the UK, with one in 10 children being infected every year.

The tiny insects live by sucking blood from the scalp. The eggs of the parasite, which are commonly known as nits, stick to hairs and hatch into scores of the tiny creatures within days.

Although a fifth of cases are among people over 16, the infection is more likely to be spread by younger children, who tend to put their heads together.

An infestation causes no significant health risk but is often embarrassing for children and their families.

Last night, one headteacher at a primary school in the southside of Glasgow said she would ignore the Executive’s instruction. "There is not a year goes by when we do not have several outbreaks of head lice, and I feel I would be failing in my duty if I did not alert parents to be on the outlook," she said.

"This is the kind of daft instruction that is issued by people who have no practical knowledge or experience of what goes on in school. No one gets embarrassed about having head lice now."

Despite the outcry, the Executive last night defended the policy. A spokesman said: "Louse infection still carries a heavy social stigma. It can be associated with inferior social status. Therefore, we do not want to embarrass parents or children in any way by issuing these letters."