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.

The following document has come into our hands by a circuitous route.  It should be read in conjunction with the note that follows it.


End of term report for: Master L. A. Cosla, Class 5a

Subject: Modern studies – Future of Scottish Education

Project: Pupils were invited to propose a draft submission to the review of Scottish education being carried out for the Scottish Government by Professor Gerry McCormac of Stirling University.  Their project has been graded according to the key proposals they made.
Pupil’s proposal


Teacher’s comment
In order to encourage high performance by head teachers there is a case for them being on renewable rather than permanent contracts


You have fundamentally misunderstood what motivates people at work and before your final exam you would profit from familiarising yourself with Alfie Kohn’s  seminal book Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes
Consideration should be given to the satisfactory completion of training courses in order for teachers to be re-accredited as teachers by the General Teaching Council of Scotland


Your argument in favour of properly structured continuing professional development is compelling but take care in how you link that to the continuing right to a job
Teachers on promoted posts below head teacher level should be on short, fixed-term contracts, subject to appraisal, for promoted posts below head teacher level


See my comment about performance of head teachers above.  You seem to make the tenure of these jobs even more at risk than the more senior posts – something perverse there!
Teachers on promoted posts below head teacher level should also move between different schools so that future leaders acquired a broad range of experience


The proposal to move promoted teachers between schools is an interesting one but linked with your other suggestions above smacks more of punishment than career development
There is a case for primary head teachers graduating to become secondary heads


This proposal very much positions primary head teachers as the lesser of the two sub-species.  It’s true they earn less but their schools are usually much smaller and have smaller budgets.  Anyhow, are the two client bases (if you want to take a business-like approach to this issue) not very different?  What about secondary head teachers taking primary school posts?  I cannot see this suggestion as fundamental to the issues you were asked to address
The number of in-service days could increase from the current five a year, and they could take place during pupils’ holidays because the current system was too disruptive to pupils and required hard-pressed councils to pay for temporary staff


An interesting proposal that would merit further development in your final project submission.  You could make the point that the current five “in-service days” are already taken from the notional 200 days a year schooling pupils are supposed to receive.  Perhaps link to the amount of holidays teachers receive each year?
“Counting hours” is inappropriate for professionals and teachers should move from a 35-hour week to a more flexible model of about 140 hours a month


Are you suggesting more “flexibility” or more work?  Your standard grade maths should have taught you that a 35-hour week is about 140 hours a month!  This is a difficult issue you should develop further.  It would be interesting to know how many teachers already work more than their contracted 35 hours a week
Primary teachers should no longer spend a maximum 22.5 hours a week teaching in the classroom in order to provide time for preparing and marking (because of the additional expense of paying for cover staff)


Another proposal (poorly expressed) that needs further development before it could become a valid argument.  I think a good case may lurk here but it needs to be developed further
The amount of time secondary teachers spend in the classroom should also be examined


See my comments on primary teachers above
Head teacher’s comment:I agree with the comments of your modern studies teacher.  In addition you might wish to consider whether your proposals get to the heart of the future challenges for Scottish education.  Given the resources available to you in school and your understanding of the subject I am somewhat disappointed at your overall conclusions

Readers unaware of the Scottish education system may not know that Master L. A. Cosla is in fact the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.  It would have been good to judge their proposals against their own words.  Unfortunately the only available account of their submission to Professor McCormac’s review is a leaked version reported by the BBC on 23 May 2011.  COSLA have been quoted as saying they may amend their comments but have not released their current submission.  The views of Master Cosla’s teacher and head teacher in his end of term report may of course bear no resemblance to those of any real teacher.  But they do take account of this blog author’s many years experience working in and for the public sector, as well as his active parenthood for almost as many years and his membership over the years of various school boards and parent councils.