Beating head lice in four steps

Written by: HTU | Published:

Former school nurse Christine Brown offers four steps schools can take to win the fight against head lice this September

One in three children will get head lice at some point in the school year and although the emphasis is on parents taking responsibility and action, schools can still play an essential role in helping families to manage them effectively.

If not caught early and handled correctly, head lice can cause a great deal of frustration, upset and embarrassment for both parents and children. 

However, a recent poll found that 46 per cent of parents did not understand the need to check for lice regularly, a third did not know what to look for, and one in four actually thought the school was checking for head lice on their behalf.

While responsibility to manage head lice lies with the parent, by implementing some simple steps schools can play a supportive role in the process, reducing the number of future outbreaks as well as the impact they can have on the family. 

Step 1: Understand the facts

Head lice are a completely normal part of childhood and, with the right methods, can be managed quickly and easily.

Ensuring teachers know the facts, and share them during discussion with parents, is the first step in dispelling myths and de-stigmatising the issue.

n Lice are wingless insects that hold onto the hair, feeding from the blood in the scalp. Nits are the empty egg cases left on the hair after lice have hatched.

n Adult lice can live for as long as a month with females laying several eggs a day.

n Lice spread when heads come into contact. Sleepovers, after-school activities, playing with friends and visiting family are the most common places for children to pick them up and pass them on.

n The best known symptom of head lice is itching, although only about 

30 per cent are aware of it. It can be uncomfortable, can prevent sleep and concentration, and affect a child’s social confidence.

Step 2: Keep parents informed 

If you are alerted to an outbreak in the school, informing parents to be extra vigilant and to take prompt action if they find lice can minimise the problem and limit the spread.

While some schools have adopted a rapid response text message system, sending a letter home and displaying posters at school reception are both effective methods during an outbreak. Details on where to order free posters for your school can be found below. 

Step 3: Educate and empower

There are a number of free resources available to schools to help empower parents with the information they need to manage head lice effectively. 

Supported by the School and Public Health Nurses Association, the Medical Entomology Centre and head lice treatment Hedrin, the Once a Week, Take a Peek campaign was launched in 2008.

The campaign’s aim is to raise awareness of the importance of being vigilant, making weekly checking as much a part of the family routine as the weekly shop, and taking swift action when dealing with head lice.

As well as a new Facebook page – set up to encourage parents to support each other when tackling head lice – the campaign provides free educational resources to schools. Visit the website to order free posters and parent advice leaflets. 

Step 4: Know where the experts are

Your community pharmacy is the best place to direct parents for one-to-one expert advice on head lice management. Pharmacists and specially trained counter-assistants can offer advice on the most effective treatments and the latest methods to protect against head lice infections. Directing parents to the local pharmacies during induction, and including contact details on head lice literature, will demonstrate the additional support available and provide reassurance to worried parents. 

  •  Christine Brown is a former school nurse and consultant to the Medical Entomology Centre.

Further information


  • For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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