Snow Chance

Why do schools close when it snows?

From Russia with Love: the Beast from the East.

Once again Britain has shown the world just how hopeless it is when dealing with a bit of snow.

Schools here, there and everywhere have shut up shop and closed. Some, no doubt, have jumped on the snow bandwagon too.

I’ve heard of two primary schools who more or less sit alongside each other: one has stayed open and the other has declared a ‘snow day’ which has sent working parents into a fury.

I live in a city: the shops are open, the hospitals, the offices etc. Doctors, nurses, police officers, ambulance staff, fire personnel – all expected to go to work and they do. So why are schools closed? There are a long list of considerations that probably most folks don’t think about but…

the main issue is of course the safety of children and staff and actually getting to and from school. For children educated locally this shouldn’t be a problem – walk to school. Staff living outside the catchment could struggle but not all routes will be impassable.

Some schools can’t open because their staff live further afield – okay, so if there are teachers who live in an area where they don’t teach then they can volunteer their services in a local school. Nurses who can’t make it in are asked to work locally to where they live and support that way – can teachers not do the same?

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), says, “Schools should stay open if they possibly can but safety concerns are the most important. If it’s not safe for the school to be open, then it is fine to close. It is a safety issue for us first and foremost.”

Shutting their school should be the very last option for any head teacher but I’m not so sure.

Whether to declare a ‘snow day’ is undoubtedly the right call under extreme circumstances but the above example exposes the strengths and weaknesses in decision-making by some senior leaders.

Some Heads have a more resilient mind-set than others and you’ll see their children ploughing ahead to school with the same resilience.  The ‘show must go on’ and they have a great time all day completely unphased building igloos. Meanwhile, the children in the same neighbourhood look on in disbelief as frantic parents try to arrange child care.

Snow days leave vulnerable children at risk.

Some schools and their communities don’t just throw in the towel but fight to keep things running.

Wearhead Primary School is more than 1,100 feet (335m) above sea level and has only had to close once for weather in the past 13 years. A parent with a digger helped clear a path so that local children could make it in safely and ensure the school remained operational.

There is understandable outrage when schools do close because the knock-on effects are huge. There are those who argue that closures damage children’s education and the economy. It was Graham Stuart, MP who said years ago what many people are thinking today,

We cannot have schools closing unnecessarily because of the impact, particularly on small businesses. So many are struggling to survive anyway. Everything begins with the school. The call comes from the school and it has the knock-on impact which can lead to the closure of the business as well. If it can be avoided it must be avoided. Everything must be done.

The UK normally experiences all four seasons in one day so we should be geared up for bad weather days but we never are.

This isn’t the case elsewhere in the world. They have a weather-readiness plan that means they never shut the doors and close schools.

Our national psyche is not one of “ready for anything” but “let’s keep our fingers crossed it’s really bad so we can get a day off”.

In countries like Norway, Finland, Sweden and Canada, the thinking is different. They are ready and they don’t close stuff. They get on with it as just another day. In Britain, snow normally means the end of the world with hapless motorists ‘trapped’ on a motorway for 18 hours and we run out of gas.

Resilience is not a national trait. Lattes and having enough charge on our phones seem to be far more important. Are we breeding a generation of wimps?

We can at least look forward to summer when some schools might decide to close because its too hot.

Read more about snow closures here.


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