SUFFOLK schools which closed their doors to pupils yesterday following the weekend snow are set be asked for an explanation from the county council.

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Senior councillors at Endeavour House were left frustrated after more than half the county’s schools were closed yesterday – a total of 203 schools and children’s centres did not open.

That left 178 schools and centres open for business – although some of them opened late once staff had cleared dangerous ice and snow.

The majority of closures were in rural areas – only six schools were closed in Ipswich – but among the closures were several schools in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft.

In Essex a total of 219 schools, academies and children’s centres were closed – although that is a much larger county so it represents a smaller proportion of students affected.

The Suffolk closures came despite advice from the county council that staff should do all they could to ensure schools opened as normal whatever the weather.

County councillor with responsibility for children and young people Graham Newman had difficulty in containing his frustration at the situation.

He said: “We are hugely disappointed at the number of school closures we have seen today – especially when our gritting teams have been working so hard to make sure roads are cleared.”

Mr Newman pointed out that clearing routes to schools was one of the priorities for the county’s gritting teams – and they had worked through the night to ensure access to schools.

All schools that were closed yesterday have already had phone calls from the county asking why they had not opened and asking if they need help to ensure they can open today.

Mr Newman said he was planning to write to all heads whose schools were closed asking for a full explanation.

“Businesses and other organisations managed to carry on – I heard an interview on radio with someone from the hospital and they said their staff had got in on time, if necessary they had left home early.

“We will want to know why it was different for schools.”

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer linked the high number of school closures with the county’s poor performance in the national school league tables.

He said: “We only had four schools that were closed in my constituency, and Beacon Hill has pupils from a wide area so it was understandable that it did not open.

“What is significant is that many of the staff for schools in Ipswich live outside the town – but they still managed to struggle through to work as normal.”

Schools in Suffolk have come under fire for under-performing: “That is a serious concern, but it has been clear to me that schools in Ipswich were better than elsewhere and the commitment shown by their staff during this time bears that out,” Mr Gummer added.

However NUT secretary Graham White defended the schools’ decision to close because of the poor weather.

He said: “If staff do not feel confident about driving in these conditions it would be wrong to put them under pressure to get in.

“The main issue also has to be the safety of students and of staff – if heads feel there are potential dangers it is not right to take the risk.”

He said if there were not enough staff to take lessons, it was not right to allow pupils to be left at school as “child-minding” service.

“You can’t have them coming into school just to watch videos because there are not enough staff for them – they can watch videos at home.”

And he said staff who did not go to school would not be relaxing.

“They will be taking the opportunity to prepare work or marking – it’s not a case of just putting their feet up on an extra holiday!” he added.

In Essex the county council emphasised the decision on whether or not to open was down to individual head teachers and their senior staff.

Stephen Castle, Essex cabinet member for education and lifelong learning said: “We encourage schools to stay open where possible and safe to do so; however conditions are difficult across Essex and schools have a responsibility to ensure their staff and pupils can get to and from, and attend school safely.

“With approximately 500 schools in Essex, the decision to open must rest with the leadership team of the individual school who would be able to assess the situation and make an appropriate judgement.”

8 comments

  • Surely the large majority of schools which shut were in the two tier system - as there aren't many three tier schools left now! However it is evident that Mr Newman and his political allies will try to make this seem like a conspiracy of the "Three Tier System" !! In many places, gritting did not happen until 10am on Monday - so how staff and pupils were supposed to be in as usual beggars belief ! Spend the money on supporting poor schools - not on continuing to close good ones! Whatever next Mr Newman?

    Report this comment

    Provocateur

    Tuesday, January 22, 2013

  • No good Conservatives at County level complaining about schools - they are the ones forcing schools to opt out of local democratic accountability by becoming academies (stealing money from other schools to do so!). They make me sick with their rank hypocrisy.

    Report this comment

    EN Heath

    Tuesday, January 22, 2013

  • The usual crass statement from "Baby Ben!" Perhaps if he has ventured north in the county rather than the usual Ipswich based view he would have seen lethal roads and pavements. A siginificant number of pupils and teachers live some distance from their schools, so would have been at high risk if they had tried to travel. A better correlation would be to compare the lack of road and pavement clearance by the Council with school closures.

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    Dogberry

    Tuesday, January 22, 2013

  • Its all very well gritting and clearing the main routes to schools. However, in rural communities if parents and teachers cannot get out of their driveways and villages then they clearly cannot attend school. Do these people in Endeavour House actually know what its like in rural Suffolk?

    Report this comment

    Malcolm Bell

    Tuesday, January 22, 2013

  • The real cause of the poor standards is the cutting by the Council of the Advisory Services to schools - too little monitoring and support!!!

    Report this comment

    Dogberry

    Tuesday, January 22, 2013

  • Here we go again, schools closed because of snow! Strange how teachers find the conditions bad for them, my milk was delivered before 6 a.m., papers were in shops, office workers were in, shop staff were at work,care workers battled through the snow to look after the elderly, doctors and nurses were on duty - the list goes on.. Do all of these people live next door to their place of work and don't have to travel?, Have to ask, why is the school responsible for the staff getting to work safely. I worked for 50 years and at no time was my employer responsible for me when travelling. Must ask this; were schools closed because staff wouldn't get paid if they didn't show for work unless their employer closed the business for the day. With the schools being closed the staff stay at home and get paid because their employer has closed their place of work. Excuse the pun but the snowball effect is that some of the other workers mentioned above, and more' are effected by the closures as mums and dads have to take time off themselves or arrange for someone to look after the children that should be school.

    Report this comment

    David isaac

    Tuesday, January 22, 2013

  • Stop the teachers pay on closure days, they will soon go to work

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    Jacob Burns

    Tuesday, January 22, 2013

  • You cannot link a few days snow with poor performance in schools; Graham Newman is being ridiculous. Individual schools have to make their own decisions for the safety of both pupils and staff and shouldn't be bullied by Mr Newman. Perhaps SCC should consider the dog's dinner they have made of Middle School closures if they want to consider 'disruption' and the enormous waste of money: this funding could have gone into better resources for schools rather than the crazy jigsaw SCC have devised through closures that were opposed by thousands of parents.

    Report this comment

    Sally Wainman

    Tuesday, January 22, 2013

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