Graham Newman

Suffolk: Schools reopen – and Ofsted threat lifted

Wednesday, January 23, 2013
6.00 AM

SCHOOLS which opened on Monday but had a substantial number of students who could not reach classes will not face a spike in “unauthorised absence” figures according to the Department for Education.

Some headteachers had feared that these figures could increase – and the number of unauthorised absences is one of the factors checked by Ofsted when they carry out an inspection.

However The DfE issued clarification advice to schools yesterday after Education Secretary Michael Gove said no school would suffer if a substantial number of its students stayed away because of snow.

The DfE said: “Our changes have actually made it easier for schools to stay open. Before, heads had to work under a perverse system where they could be tempted to close the whole school if a large number of pupils were going to be absent because of the snow.

“By closing an entire school because of the weather then pupils would not be marked down as absent and there was no risk of their attendance figures being damaged.

“Under the new system – introduced in September 2010 – the old incentive to shut the whole school because of a minority of absent pupils has been removed.

“Those who are snowed-in can now be given a special code in the register which does not count towards school absence figures. This means schools now have no perverse incentive to shut.”

After more than half the schools in Suffolk closed due to bad weather on Monday, all bar three were back open yesterday morning.

Some schools opened at 10am or allowed students a later registration window to ease the pressure on travel time.

Abbot’s Hall Primary School in Stowmarket and Meadow Primary School in Lowestoft were closed due to heating problems.

Stoke-by-Nayland Primary School, and Bramfield School had a longer registration and Easton Primary School and St Mary’s Primary School in Lowestoft opened at 10am.

Suffolk cabinet member with responsibility for young people Graham Newman also sought to explode another myth – saying there had never been a case in the county of any school being sued after someone slipped over on ice in a playground.

He said most people he had spoken to since the controversy over the closed schools had broken on Monday had shared his view that too many Suffolk schools had remained closed when some could have opened.

Meanwhile the head of one primary school in Ipswich expressed her frustration that parents had kept their children away from school even though it was open.

Whitehouse Primary School was open as normal on Monday, but headteacher Jacqui Frost said about a quarter of her pupils were absent without any explanation.

Speaking on Radio Suffolk, Ms Frost said she was delighted that three quarters of her pupils turned up as normal, but the level of absentees was frustrating.

She had seen some pupils walking past the school with their parents – and even heard one of her pupils being interviewed while sledging at Broomhill Park.

Most of her pupils live within walking distance of the school, so their parents could not use the excuse that they could not reach it. After appearing on the Breakfast show, Ms Frost met parents at the school yesterday and did not want to talk to any other media.