Saturday, January 09, 2010

If One School Could Open, Why Couldn't Others?

I was talking to my Mum last night and she was ranting on about schools who close at the first whiff of snow. She had seen a report on the TV about a school in Norwich which had remained open, despite all those around it closing.

It turns out that on Thursday and Friday this week, Norfolk had over 350 school closures. This meant that fewer than 30 schools were open. The concern is that some schools appeared to close on a whim, with no effort whatsoever to open or even try to. The teachers at the school in the report were able to get in. Is this school so unique ? Are we truly expected to believe that this school alone is the one and only school in Norwich where all the teachers live locally ? Of course not. This school, no doubt, has teachers from all over the county. The difference between this school and others was the desire to open.

Then there are the excuses used. Some schools claimed their "site was not safe". What does this mean ? Do they mean it had snow and ice outside? So presumably did the one in Norwich (certainly the TV images on Anglia seemed to show this) but it still opened.

Anglia News went to the school to record the fact that it was open, and that children were also allowed to throw snowballs and make snowmen. No "keep of the snow" mentality from the staff. The images showed a school coping with the weather and the children enjoying the snow. No PC rubbish there. So why can Mile Cross Primary School in Norwich do this but other schools totally fail to do so ?

Finally, how could schools that closed on Thursday arbitrarily announce they would be closing for the following day too before they even knew what the roads and weather were like?

I am sure we don't expect teachers to take risks on the roads and I know we all like a day off, but surely there is an expectation that schools and headteachers ought to be doing absolutely everything, even if it involves having a skeleton staff in school, to ensure that schools are open in poor weather. Norwich was not cut off, no roads were blocked, the buses were running. In short, the world had not come to an end, but only Mile Cross Primary School seemed to realise this.


Anonymous said...

I fear it has more to do with Teaching being a "job", the leadership provided by Ed Balls and his ilk, and teaching is no longer seen as a profession

Certainly the rewards belie the phrase

"Those who can, do; whilst those who can't, teach"

word verification "breast"???? is that why we've dropped the anonymous

Anonymous said...

as i've yet to hear howls of protest from their unions may i suggest that the fact that teachers appear to be getting paid for not turning up may have something to do with this?

if they all knew no-show meant no pay i imagine a slightly greater effort may have been made.......

Duncan Stott said...

You say "PC rubbish". What has Political Correctness got to do with Health and Safety?

I think you've got your right-wing clich├ęd ranting muddled.

Ian said...

A major factor is probably that if a school opens, but attendance is low, then that will affect the school's absence numbers, which are cited in Ofsted reports...

If the school just shuts then absences aren't "counted".

The Flying Spaghetti Monster said...

Because of the greed and stupidity of the UK's litigious culture of course

Anonymous said...

It's mainly a fear of being sued by parents when one of their precious little snowflakes slips or falls. Blaming the schools is wrong, blaming health and safety is wrong - it's time to blame our litigious societ.

JMB said...

I think it was the BBC Scotland news that showed one school where they had some lessons outside in the snow - "taking advantage of the free resource" as a teach er described it.

I cannot remember my schools ever closing including when many of the main roads were blocked by snow and the council had to use a RAF snow blower.

Tapestry said...

Those that can, do.

Those who cannot, teach.

Those who cannot teach,

teach the teachers.

That's the full version, strongholdb..

My sister in law is a teacher who's been enjoying a couple of days off.
She has been saying the school was not what it was any more with the inability to remove disruptive pupils, making teaching ten times harder work than it used to be.

You can understand their point of view. Maybe the school in Norwich also deals differently with issues of discipline.

Unknown said...

there are numerous reasons why schools decide to close when it snows. chief of which is that you can't run a school "on a skeleton staff"!!! Classes have on average 30 pupils. Therefore if just three teachers can't get in then that's 90 children without an adult to supervise them. think about it.

you should stick to politics iain. leave the head teachers to decide what is in the best interests of their school. I thought this was the Tory way after all?

Ean Craigie said...

I wonder how long it will take Ofsted to show up and for the head teacher to be fired or suspended

Anonymous said...

It isnt always teachers not showing, although it can be. Site not safe for my local primary (not the one in Norwich) means that it is on a steep hill with cars parked either side, and in the ice the emergency services cannot get down the hill. When required the ambulance had to park at the top of the hill and the staff walk down in this circumstance it is understandable to close.

Also lots are closing because the boilers arent working and they cant heat the place, acceptable?

Basically I am suggesting that each situation is different and some schools will be easier to keep open and others harder, but you are right to say that staff should make every sensible effort to get into school

Anonymous said...

It depends on the school. But in general, the whole school snow debacle has happened because of a a few reasons.

1) Most schools are not on main roads, and this ensures that they are very difficult to get to in icy conditions.

2) Due to the nature of the school day, with many schools starting earlier than the average workplace. This has ensured that teachers can commute from further away (no rush hour), and park (see point one). Thus, we have the situation where a large body of ice can disproportionately effect the ability of staff to get to a school.

3)School are large places, with substantial grounds and more people in them than most corporate headquarters. Gritting and keeping schools safe is a herculean task. Your example is that of a primary school, and is admirable. But primary schools are smaller than secondary schools, the hence are easier to manage (not to mention the relative ease of dealing with 5-11 year old compared to 11-16).

4) Our education system, ans most schools planning was never designed to handle these conditions. What would be a good approach would be that teachers should be made to attend the school nearest to them, which would keep more schools open.

I hope that clears up a few points.

Lord Monkington-Smythe said...


Classroom teachers have no say as to whether or not the school closes. The Head decides in the first instance, often under the direction of the Local Authority, and neither give a toss about what a classroom teacher thinks or wants.

If you are going to have a go at teachers, at least have the decency to have some sort of clue what you are talking about first.


As well as docking the pay of teachers, why don't we jail them on snowy days? That would teach them, the commie rascals.

You aren't a Labour minister are you? You seem to be on a par intellectually.

Unsworth said...

Several reasons. School staff now commute considerable distances to their place of work (I'm a governor at a school where the average one-way journey - home to school or vice versa - is about 15 miles). Public transport is a dead duck. Centrally (Ministerially) driven operations of schools now mean that virtually all initiative, incentive and responsiblity has been circumscribed by endless reams of 'guidance' and regulation from both national and county apparatchiks.

I doubt that the ghastly Mr Balls and his chosen acolytes have issued instructions to cover this 'unprecedented' weather, but no doubt 'lessons will be learned'. Next there will be endless discussion about snow - types, depths, wind chill, wind velocities, times of day etc etc. Right now countless 'consultants' will be feverishly replacing the batteries in their calculators as they envisage the vast scales of their fees for drawing up whole rafts of incomprehensible and inane 'guidelines'.

But if you want schools to operate as they did some years ago you could simply return authority and discrimination to schools and their Governing Bodies. They're not stupid, but they are cowed. And all the time that someone else is issuing orders they really don't have to think for themselves, do they?

'Health and Safety' has come to dominate virtually every aspect of schooling. For example, our caretaker - a superb asset to the school - has had to attend various courses in order to continue to carry out his job. Tasks which were simple matters of school maintenance have now become ritualised farces. He's had to attend lengthy courses on usage of step-ladders, working alone, fire regulations and so on. The simple job of changing a light bulb in the school hall - a two or three minute task - now takes about an hour and a half, what with him checking and securing the area, coning off, putting stripey tape all over the place, filling in various forms before and after, etc. It's complete and utter tick-box insanity which is borne out of an unwarranted fear of litigation. One has to wonder how many caretakers have actually been killed or gravely injured in the course of their duties, but I can't think it is many. Still it's all part of the H & S money-go-round, I suppose, and no doubt a multitude of lawyers have grown fat on it.

And you ask why others could not open? Well maybe part of the answer is that it is now so difficult to open the buildings, what with all of the documentation and litigation etc bollox that it is simply more sensible - and certainly much easier - to just lock the gates and walk away.

Schools have had their unique local presences completely destroyed by NuLab, to be entirely replaced by diktat and sinister homogeneity. The same is true of most other services. In a single decade the entire local community structure has been destroyed. I doubt it will ever return.

Bill Quango MP said...

Bob and iCowboy are correct.
The postmen aren't delivering for similar reasons.
Remember too it can be very dangerous.. And a school has to have sufficient numbers of staff and assistants, and if the hot food doesn't arrive what do the parents say? And if the parents can't get back to pick up the children.

To close a school for three days makes far more sense than to open it. Are the pavements gritted, or the minor roads? Lots of grandparents take kids to school and many many more reasons.

In my village they were done for the first time this morning and the school was open Friday with a 75% attendance. That's 75% of a catchment within a mile of the school. 25% didn't or couldn't attend.

In 1980 snows my school never closed once, but then we couldn't sue the school. If our parents did a judge would say "H'mm Scrapped knee and missed a hot lunch? Hole in trousers and a cold? Finds for the prosecution. Damages of a pack of lemsip, a new pair of C+A jeans, strip of band aid and a voucher for Wimpey +, ohhh say 32 damages."

Today it will be thousands and the careear of the head.

Let the schools decide. That has to be the right course.

Vole Strangler said...

It is obvious that some schools have key staff (not necessarily all teachers) who live locally and others don't. Councils don't grit all roads equally. Snow does't fall evenly all over a region. Local conditions (ice, steep roads, etc) vary. Some schools rely more on public transport. Schools use different coach companies who are impacted unevenly.

Only when snow (snow mitigation) is handled by big government in a consistent way nationally and tackling various areas (gritting, public transport, health & safety, local services, etc) will we have the even response to a cold snap that your mother expects. Is she a socialist by any chance?

Paul Walter said...

Rarely have you asked a question which reveals your sublime ignorance of the situation so much, Iain!

I support the points made by Tom, Robertmbrown and Laurie171079.

I visited a primary school still open yesterday and spoke to the headteacher. But it is on a well gritted road and has zero exterior areas between classrooms. There's just a very short path at the front which can easily be cleared. All the teachers and children live nearby within walking distance with no treacherous hills. But then compare that to my offsrping's secondary school: It has a myriad of exposed pathways between classrooms, children have to travel relatively long distances to get to it, some children come from rural areas by buses which need to come down treacherous hills
and the homes of the teachers are relatively far-flung.

Then there's boiler issues and the like on top of that.

Grandpa said...

While closures may be for different reasons it would seem common sense to anticipate some circumstances and plan accordingly.
1. Councils should prioritise ploughing and salting of all school access roads.
2. Headteachers should have a budget to put teachers overnight in hotels or B&B's near their school if travel to work is in doubt.
3. Court orders for community service should include putting together of teams to clear footpaths and accesses by hand.
4. School budgets should be reduced by the number of days the school is closed.

John Linford said...

I do believe it's H&S and our litigious society, or perhaps, more accurately, officialdom's interpretation thereof that are, together, the root of the problem. We need to change the modern attitude that risk is bad and somebody is always to blame.

It's plain daft to see kids not in school because, apparently, it's not safe due to snow and ice so instead they are out playing around in the snow and ice all day, largely unsupervised... surely at a vastly greater risk.

It was different when I was a kid. If teachers couldn't get in for whatever reason then we grouped together and did things as a school rather than in class. In the far worse winter of '63 I can remember several occasions where we had sessions in the assembly hall for more or less the entire school (1000+ pupils). And come break time we were out in the quadrangle, throwing snowballs at one another. And if we fell over and grazed a knee then that was our own fault!

Unknown said...

The time lost at school can easily be made up by reducing the amount of school holidays and in-service training days.
If headteachers had to replace missed school days with reduced holidays, I don't think the problem would be so widespread.


talwin said...

All this was made explicit on one of yesterday's TV news programmes when a headmaster was asked why his school was closed when one down the road remained open.

He said that if advice was not to make journeys unless they were absolutely necessary, if he opened the school and someone was hurt, who was going to get sued?


OldSlaughter said...

At work you could tell all the people that had decided they would not be able to make it in the next day before one flake had fallen.

In the same way the self-sign off was allowed for Swine Flu preceded a massive rise in the people apparently suffering from flu.

Of course in this PC, H & S, arse-covering, claims direct world you can't say 'get your flipping boots on and walk'.

My foreign friends are ribbing non-stop. They live in snow half the year. Why do we, a country that managed the Second World War, rationing etc. fall apart the moment a little bit of weather comes done.


Unsworth nails it. Not for the first time either!

Stepney said...

You're an 8 year old.

What will you remember about this winter? A controlled writing assessment? An attempt at a chronological account? This weeks mind numbing series of numeracy hours? Plugging away at useless curricula?

Or flying down a hill at top speed on a bin liner? Marvelling at the winter world? Investigating the glories of ice crystals? Having fun with...deep breath...your family?

Those of you who think the former need to remember what is was like being a kid and a reality check in terms of what education actually is and what it's for.

It doesn't all take place in Ball's empire you know, and thank the good Lord for that too.

Darren Jones said...

I have been looking at this and believe Ed Balls could solve it now by insisting Headteachers outline their reasons for closing, with the default position being school is open. All schools should also have a contingency and teachers that cannot travel should have a designated nearest school that they can attend instead.
This costs industry and sets a bad example to children.

I blogged on it earlier for more detail.

Vole Strangler said...

Well said Stepney!

Unsworth said...

@ Darren Jones

If Balls were to do what you say he would, in essence, be bypassing the entire educational structure and making all headteachers answerable to himself only. So much for democracy and local accountability. One can see that parents, staff, governors and local communities have no say in the matter whatsoever.

But then that is exactly what he has been doing for a very long time. So, let's live with that, because if the education system is a failure then it will be his direct responsibility, won't it? After all, he's in direct control.

JohnRS said...

The schools should be able to do as they please but ought to be required to add the missed days to the end of the summer term.

After all, the taxpayer pays for a certain number of days of effort from the staff each year and is currently losing a sizeable number of them due to unnecessary closures.

Man in a Shed said...

The School my kids are supposed to be going to was closed 10 minutes before we walked there. Plenty of staff had struggled in, and were as annoyed as the parents were.

I suspect the problem is legal liability and the fact there is no reward for trying, only punishment if your unlucky and a no win no fee lawyer goes after you.

Darren Jones said...


The only reason I bring the awful Balls into this, is because he has the power to institute change this weekend. It would in reality be making headteachers answerable to parents and their local community.

Anonymous said...

In my town, on Thursday, when the weather was better than Wednesday, some schools were open and some closed. My older children's secondary school was closed; my younger children's primary was open. There was no justification for this - in fact, the primary was probably more snowed in than the secondary. The secondary school claimed that "the site was unsafe", that staff couldn't get in, and that the buses weren't running (which they were according to the County Council). I agree with poncho - it's all about attendance stats (as well as teacher motivation levels).

Unsworth said...

@ Darren Jones

"It would in reality be making headteachers answerable to parents and their local community."

Well yes and no. You see that is in theory the situation which obtains. I'm sure you know that Governing Bodies are charged by law with holding headteachers to account - although it is debatable if many actually do. And Governing Bodies are required to be representive of - amongst others - parents and the local community (their memberships are structured in order to do so).
Thus in my case we have governors who represent teaching staff, ancillary staff, the local community, parents, the Local Authority and the Head. Our debate is robust and the (extraordinarily good) Head is often subject to searching scrutiny. That said, we're mature enough to come to collective views and produce and incorporate our own policies - which so far have served us well.

What we really don't need is some clown in Whitehall demanding answers as to whether the school was open, if so why, if not why not etc etc. Already the education system is stuffed with paper and utterly meaningless statistics. This would simply add to the garbage.

Balls cannot institute change this weekend. He's going to have to get through a whole judicial process to order schools to open and/or close in accordance with his wishes and his choice of circumstances. Further, he's going to have to bear the legal consequences for his decisions - as school governors currently do.

Now, I'm quite happy if Balls chooses to make those decisions. After all, it's one less thing for the school to consider.

The game is this. If central authorities issue an edict which lays down procedures and stipulations, all we have to do is just follow the 'guidance'. Never mind whether the guidance is sensible, practical or even relevant. We will have the perfect cop-out whenever it snows, hails, rains or even when the sun shines.

What do you want, intelligent operators running decent schools or mindless, diktat driven, automata?

Lawless Anarchist: said...

tbf Iain,

teaching with a 'skeleton staff' is a pointless affair. It's not like a call centre being under staffed and people just queuing a bit longer till their call's answered... Kids'll dish out as much trouble as ever.

Secondly, I can't blame schools for closing from a litigious perspective- only recently at my mother's school a child's parents are suing because their son broke his arm in a game of unattended after school football. Schools cannot win!

Rebel Saint said...

There's also attendance stats to take into consideration. Ofsted place very high attendance expectations on schools [no-one is allowed to be below national average ... they don't seem to know how averages work!!] - currently about 95%

In poor weather attendance is often around 75%. A few days like that can really bugger up your statistics! And attendance is one of the factors that can create an instant "fail"

Unknown said...

This is just crap. Mt hospital has been practically fuly staffed all week. Of course, the answer, like so much else, are the stupid government targets for absenteeism.

................................. said...

When I was a kid (not really that long ago), schools stayed open when it snowed. What is different about snow then to snow now?

Is there something about teachers that make them less able to reach their places of work than other employees? I made it into work every day last week, in spite of pavements of polished ice that would put Dancing on Ice to shame.

I rather suspect it's simply a case of the poor health of our schools. Lazyitis seems to have become a cronic infection amongst our teachers. Must do better!