Headteachers criticised over closures

THE region's headteachers were under fire last nightafter many closed their schools because of the first snowfall of winter.More than 80 Suffolk schools were closed yesterdayafter overnight snow, but it has been claimed that teachers should have done more to ensure that learning was not disrupted.

THE region's headteachers were under fire last nightafter many closed their schools because of the first snowfall of winter.

More than 80 Suffolk schools were closed yesterdayafter overnight snow, but it has been claimed that teachers should have done more to ensure that learning was not disrupted.

David Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds, said: “Whilst the safety of children and adults getting to school is important, unless the weather is serious then I believe schools should be kept open.

“Obviously, if a headteacher believes that life and limb are at risk they should play for safety and close the school - but can we honestly say that was the case in every single closure yesterday? I would be shocked if it was.”

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“There had to be a very good reason why we couldn't make it through the ice and snow - it seems that hardy attitude is lacking in this day and age.

Janet Sibley, the shadow spokesman for learning for life on Suffolk County Council, said: “It does seem that any hint of snow is being used as an excuse to close a school and that causes a lot of disruption for parents, who have to suddenly change their plans.

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“I must say that I was surprised to see and hear that so many schools had closed, especially in Ipswich - everybody else managed to get into work, so why couldn't they?

Dennis McGarry, headteacher at St Albans School, Ipswich, said: “The main reason the decision was taken to close was access into and around the school.

“The severe weather conditions caused significant health and safety problems - in terms of people slipping over, the playground was like a sheet of ice.

“Also, we were concerned with a likely deterioration in the weather during the day. I think it was the right decision.”

Laurie Robinson headteacher of Copleston High in Ipswich, said: “Most, not all, but most of our pupils do live within walking distance of the school but staff come from a wide area and have to get home at the end of the day.

“I'm lucky - I can walk to school which is why I'm here today but we have people working here who come from as far away as Norwich and Clacton - and you cannot run a school of 1,800 pupils with many staff unable to get in,” he said.

Northgate headteacher Neil Watts said he took the decision to close early in the day for a number of reasons, but his over-riding concern was that many of his staff and some of his students live some way away from the school.

“I had to make the decision early in the day in the best interests of everyone,” he said.

At Stoke High all the teachers arrived at school but less than a third of the pupils turned up.

Head Alan Whittaker said: “We have very committed staff here and they all turned up and we cleared the grounds - but pupils misunderstood what was said on the radio and saw their friends at Chantry and Holywells had a day off and didn't come in.

“I shall be sending a letter home to parents explaining the situation and I hope we don't face the same situation again.”

Most high schools outside Ipswich remained open - Holbrook, Hadleigh, East Bergholt, Claydon, Debenham, Farlingaye and the two Felixstowe secondaries all operated normally yesterday.

David Thornton, acting director of learning at Suffolk County Council, said decisions to close schools were not taken lightly.

He added: “It is up to headteachers to make the decision on closure, which they will always try to as early as they can, so they can let parents know through the local radio stations as quickly as possible.

“The worst possible scenario would be having hundreds of pupils at school in the afternoon with the weather closing in and transport contractors unable to get them home safely.”

Meanwhile, motorists battled against treacherous driving conditions and traffic was delayed on the A14 yesterdayafter a 10-tonne lorry overturned at Woolpit, near Bury St Edmunds at 9.46am on the westbound carriageway near the A1088 junction.

The driver was taken to West Suffolk Hospital, Bury and treated for hand injuries and the road was reopened by midday.

Police were not called to deal with any serious weather-related accidents but received complaints about snowballs being thrown at vehicles and pedestrians.

A spokesman for Suffolk police said: “People should be aware it can be dangerous. To throw snowballs at moving vehicles could cause a collision or at an elderly person, an injury. We don't want to spoil people's fun but they should think of the consequences.”

Anglia Railways said some of its main line and local line services had been delayed by the snow and last nighttrains from Norwich were subject to severe delays.

Earlier the 5.15am service from Ipswich to Cambridge ran 50 minutes late due to frozen points at Dullingham and there were cancellations between Ipswich and Saxmundham on the Ipswich to Lowestoft line, where a replacement bus service was used.

Morning services in and out of Liverpool Street experienced delays of up to 35 minutes, with the 9am train from Liverpool Street delayed by 20 minutes at Shenfield due to a frozen horn.

An Anglia Railways spokeswoman said: “For anyone who was delayed, Anglia Railways tickets were valid on Great Eastern trains to make the journey easier.

Suffolk County Council said some bus services between Bury St Edmunds and Haverhill were affected by the snow.

Horse enthusiast and author Sallie Walrond, dusted off a 100-year-old sleigh and made the most of the wintry conditions.

Mrs Walrond, of Shimpling near Bury St Edmunds enjoyed a sleigh ride with her friend Patricia Zilli. The pair were pulled by a nine-year-old Connemara horse Scottsway Sunrise, better known as Sandy.

“The sleigh was last out of the coach house more than a decade ago as we have not had decent snow since,” said Mrs Walrond, will release her 12th and final book, called Trot On, later this year.

In north Suffolk the amount of snow falling varied with the coastal areas of Southwold and Lowestoft receiving more than inland areas like Halesworth.

Despite the cold temperatures Stuart Reeve and Tracy Martin had no trouble keeping warm as they swept the snow from Southwold Pier.

Southwold's beach and famous landmarks, including Gun Hill, took on a wintry beauty in the early morning sunshine.

“I have not noticed the cold as it is really warm work clearing all the snow,” said Stuart.

nWhat do you think about the headteachers' decisions to close their schools?

Write to East Anglian Daily Times Letters at 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 1AN or email EADTletters @eadt.co.uk

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