Headteachers defend opening schools and praise ‘amazing’ staff and ‘mental strength’
PUBLISHED: 16:10 28 February 2018 | UPDATED: 16:14 28 February 2018
Primary school headteachers in Ipswich have defended their decisions to stay open today – and praised the “amazing” commitment of staff.
Blizzard-like conditions resulted in up to eight inches of snow in parts of Suffolk, forcing headteachers to weigh up the balance between providing a day’s education and ensuring the safety of staff and pupils.
Many were simply forced into closing their school due to a lack of staff or public transport – or because conditions were deemed “extremely dangerous”.
All headteachers would have done their best to open their school for as long as possible, school leaders told this newspaper.
In Suffolk, more than eight in 10 schools were closed all day: 277 out of 322. Others opened late at 10am and some closed early at 1pm. One was closed due to a gas leak. In Essex, 392 schools closed.
Twenty out of 29 primary schools in Ipswich were closed all day. Five were partially open, mainly from 10am, and four others were open all day.
Katrina Chisholm, senior deputy headteacher at Ravenswood Community Primary School, which was open all day, said staff and pupils walked for up to an hour to get to school.
She said: “We were determined to open. Unless there is sufficient snow, such as main roads being closed, we will open if we can.
“Staff were amazing and travelled in from far and wide. We really admire that.
“Each head has to make their own decision. It is more difficult for village schools. You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Our aim is to stay open tomorrow, but we will watch the forecast. We were communicating late last night and early this morning.”
Tracey Mckenzie, headteacher at Britannia Primary School in Ipswich, said only one teacher out of 26 was unable to travel to school, with 80% pupil attendance. Staff salted the playground and the front entrance area in advance of the snow.
But one parent complained, claiming Miss Mckenzie had put at risk the safety of pupils and had not provided adequate education.
Miss Mckenzie said: “All but one of my teachers were here and we provided high-quality education. You can’t please everyone. If I had closed the school, there would have been many more complaints.
“Heads make their own decision. There weren’t many open near us locally. My guess is that they did not have enough staff cover or it wasn’t safe to come to school.”
She said salt reserves were “running low” and may only last until Tuesday, adding: “I expect many more will be ordering more but I’m not sure how much is out there.”
Michael Lynch, headteacher of Springfield Junior School in Ipswich, said all 14 teachers arrived at school by 8.10am – from Felixstowe, Hadleigh, and Otley. One cycled in from Rushmere. Mr Lynch even picked up three teachers in his 4x4 on the way to school.
He said: “We are determined to serve this community. If children turn up, then we should turn up – and children were here at 8am for the breakfast club.
“It is about mental strength. We all made a massive effort. We mucked in together. Staff were determined to come in. Our caretaker was clearing the playground at 7am. We will try our hardest to stay open, but other headteachers have different factors to us.”
David Hutton, headteacher at Northgate High School in Ipswich, which closed, said headteachers consulted from 5.50am onwards.
“No head takes the decision lightly,” he said. “Retired heads are full of relief when they see snow and know they no longer have to make a decision at 6.30am that can make them seem foolish by midday.”
Stutton Primary School pupils made vegetable soup together and enjoyed toasted marshmallows. Interim headteacher Anne Clarke said: “It was an easy decision for us, but staff, parents and children should not put themselves in any danger to come to school.”
Graham White, Suffolk representative at the National Education Union, said: “Heads have to make very difficult choices over the safety of staff, educating and not child-minding pupils, and flack from media and parents.
“It is inconvenient when schools close but safety and welfare is paramount, especially having witnessed the appalling and reckless driving of some.”
Mr White said children can study at home, such as homework or work prepared by teachers in anticipation of the snow and available online.
He added: “Parents also have a responsibility for education. A snow day is not a wasted day unless that is the intention.”