Schools under fire for closures

HEADTEACHERS came under fire last night for closing schools too readily in snowy weather - with more than 700 shutting their doors across Suffolk and Essex yesterday.

Craig Robinson

HEADTEACHERS came under fire last night for closing schools too readily in snowy weather - with more than 700 shutting their doors across Suffolk and Essex yesterday.

The threat of more heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures is expected to lead to more closures today and possibly into next week.

In Suffolk 255 of the county's 356 schools closed yesterday, while in Essex the figure was 480 out of 580.

Last night the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) criticised headteachers for closing at the smallest sign of snow - saying lost work days are affecting many companies and that it sent the wrong message to youngsters.

Meanwhile in Essex the councillor in charge of education is writing to every head in the county and asking them to re-think their policy on snow closures.

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Education bosses defended their decision saying that a number of factors had to be taken into consideration, including health and safety issues, staff numbers and if pupils and teachers are able to get home once snow has started to settle.

But Jeanette Thurtle, FSB East Anglia regional organiser, said: “Many parents are having to stay at home to look after children; fewer people make it into work, meaning fewer sales on the high street and a cost to the economy.

“If, for instance, 10% of staff are unable to get into work because of the bad weather and school closures, that could potentially cost the UK economy �600million a day.”

She said concerns had also been raised that young people are being brought up to believe that as soon as there is any snow they do not have to go into school or work and can stay at home.

Meanwhile Stephen Castle, who is in charge of education at Essex County Council, has written to every headteacher to ask them to reassess their closure policy.

“I can sympathise with headteachers but I would like to urge schools to stay open where possible and give children the chance to participate in a full-day of learning, especially considering exams are fast approaching,” he said. “This cold weather is due to continue for at least another week and parents should be able to make the decision as to whether they feel their child should attend school, as opposed to having this decision made for them.”

But Jean Quinn, of Colchester and North Essex National Union of Teachers (NUT), said it was better for children to have a day off school than risk people being involved in delays and accidents.

“It is a binary decision - let's say you say 'yes, we are going to close' and you have made the wrong decision - you have lost a day of education,” she said. “The alternative is that you open and staff can be caught up in delays, or worse still an accident, trying to get in. Of those two scenarios, which is the worst one?”

Mrs Quinn said some headteachers were now corresponding with each other to try to ensure an element of uniformity with the decision to close.

Graham Newman, portfolio holder for children, schools, and young people's services at Suffolk County Council, said headteachers chose to close their schools reluctantly but they had to be sensible.

“We have had cases of buses not being able to get up hills and in some places the pavements are rutted and frozen,” he said. “In that situation it would be real folly for a headteacher to say, 'bring your child in to school'. At the end of the day headteachers have a responsibility for the safety of the children and their staff.

“You also have to be mindful of what is to come. Many schools open but because of the deteriorating conditions decide to close early. You then have the logistics of phoning 300 or 400 parents and asking them to come and pick up their children. What happens if they are not nearby or can't get to the school for some time? You just can't do it.”

Farlingaye High School in Woodbridge announced yesterday that it would be closed today. For the latest snow closures visit www.eadt.co.uk.