A dump of snow, the schools close, outrage ensues. The media’s full of people complaining this is health and safety gone mad, the impact on business is unacceptable, teachers aren’t dedicated like they used to be, even – on the radio today – ‘teachers want to exchange the 3 Rs for a bit of R & R.’
An easy reaction but too glib. Here are nine reasons schools should close in bad weather
1. It’s all about the children
Schools are there for children and their education. They’re not like adults, able to take responsibility for their own safety. Even if their safety can be ensured in school they’ve still got to get there and back. Students may be 17 or 18 but they’re also as young as five – younger if the school includes a nursery.
2. Teachers can’t get in
If teachers have a class of 25 normally is it reasonable or effective for them to take, say, 50? If they teach English is it feasible to ask them to take a physics class? If they normally teach the 11 year olds can they cope with a class of five year olds, perhaps without a classroom assistant? The space may not be there to combine classes. And since it’s not always predictable which teachers will be able to get in, planning for how to combine classes may be impossible.
3. Other staff can’t get in
Those other staff can include technicians, essential to the running of some science/technical subjects, catering staff, even the janitor. Operating without them can make as much sense as asking the MD to pop down to the shop floor, sweep the snow from the delivery bay, switch the heating on and get the production line going with half the workers missing.
4. The school itself is unsafe
A roof has collapsed, snow has got in, the heating’s off, the water tank’s burst, the entrance is covered in ice. OK, maybe some of it shouldn’t happen, but it can, even in the best maintained premises. And if the staff can’t get in maybe the gas engineer or water company can’t either.
5. Children can’t get in
A pretty obvious reason when children travel by car, public transport or school bus to school. The head teacher can command none of them to run a service.
6. Lunch can’t be provided
OK, so would you let the kids go without food? It may not only be the catering staff who can’t get in, suppliers might not be able to deliver food.
7. The logistics of part-opening don’t always make sense
Well, you might say, if they can’t cope with the younger ones, why not tell the older ones to get in? If some are revising for, or even taking exams, tell them they’ve got to get in but let the others stay at home. Ever heard of a logistical nightmare? Check some of the other reasons why school should close to see why part-opening may not be a good idea.
8. Schools are there to provide education, not a child sitting service
If they genuinely can’t provide an education when the weather is bad, all schools will be offering is a basic child minding service. The poor old schools get enough dumped on them in the way of solving society’s problems. Why should they take on an added burden of parental responsibility or help sort what is at best a temporary problem for (some) other employers whose staff have to take time off to look after their children?
9. The weather might not be bad now but it’s forecast to get dangerously worse
You look out the window, it’s not nice but the roads are passable. Why’s the school closing? Check the weather forecast. The head teacher will. And if it’s going to get a lot worse during the day it’s not a good idea to have a building full of children unable to get home mid-afternoon.
Sometimes schools just can’t overcome the impact of snow and ice. What they can do of course is make sure parents get good information as soon as possible about likely closures – online, text messages, local radio. Maybe the situation’s easier in those parts of the UK where Gove-ism hasn’t driven schools from the arms of the local authority and they can do a bit of co-ordination.
In Scotland many local authorities have great online information about school closures. Take a look at Aberdeenshire’s web site for example, where as I write 123 schools in their large rural area are closed or partly closed. The head teacher’s responsible for getting information about their school online and it’s updated all the time. And you can get the information on a map, by RSS feed, Twitter or subscribe for e-mail alerts. That’s what I call a good service.
Oh, and the same council (I used to work for them) instructs teachers who can’t get in to work to go to a more accessible school that’s open, if there’s one, failing which to work at home. So much for ‘R &R.’
Cross about the whole thing? Don’t worry, in a few days it’ll all be forgotten until the next spot of bad weather when the same old finger-pointing will start up all over again.