Snow forces Essex school closures

SCHOOLS across Essex fell victim to Britain's inability to cope with a day of snow yesterday as hundreds decided to shut their doors.Also hit by the cold snap were travellers, with motorists facing icy roads and blizzard conditions forcing the cancellation of 100 flights at Stansted Airport.

SCHOOLS across Essex fell victim to Britain's inability to cope with a day of snow yesterday as hundreds decided to shut their doors.

Also hit by the cold snap were travellers, with motorists facing icy roads and blizzard conditions forcing the cancellation of 100 flights at Stansted Airport.

Estimated figures for the closures included about 200 schools in Essex and up to another 100 in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Gary Smith, headteacher of the Market Field special school in Elmstead Market, decided to close his school yesterday.

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He said: “Unfortunately I had to make the decision at 7am. With hindsight the weather has not turned out so badly but you don't know that at that time of the morning.”

Cllr Stephen Castle, Essex County Council cabinet member for education, declined to speak to the EADT about the impact the weather had on the county's schools, but provided a statement.

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In it, he said the weather conditions affecting an area the size of Essex can vary considerably from one part to another.

He added: “It is for this reason, and the fact that local authorities no longer run schools as they used to, that the decision of whether to close a school or not rests with the headteacher, in consultation with their governing body.

“As a matter of course, however, we will be writing to all those schools that have closed today to ask them why they decided to do so.”

Caroline Haynes, principal at Tendring Technology College, said both of its campuses were open yesterday.

She said: “It's easy for us to decide - we're a rural school and the vast majority of our students are bussed in. So, if the busses can get out of the depot, then we are open.

“I get a phone call at 6.45am and if the busses are out and the roads are open, we're in.

“We try to stay open in all cases, but obviously we've got to be realistic.”

She said that in three years in charge, she had only had to close the school once, and that was for a burst pipe.

Miles Bacon , headteacher at Thurstable School in Tiptree said whether the bus company was running was vital when deciding whether to open as 40% of pupils were out in rural areas.

“Closure is absolutely the last resort because ultimately what it means is parents having to take time off work.

“Every school has its individual circumstances and some have sites that are particularly dangerous to access in snow and icy conditions.

“Essentially, if we can open and it is safe then we will and that was the situation we had today.”

He said only about half the pupils came in because a radio station had wrongly announced the school was closed.

The Local Government Association said councils would look at three factors when deciding whether to cancel lessons for the day.

A spokeswoman said safety would be an important concern, with the ability of teachers and pupils to reach school another obvious factor.

She said: “Sometimes councils may decide to keep a school open but then later find that not enough staff and pupils have been able to make it in. So many of them will decide to close early and send pupils home.”

The Department for Education and Skills said the decision on whether to close lay entirely with local councils and headteachers.

A spokesman said: “It is down to headteachers or local authorities. If there are no teachers or if conditions are bad then locally they may decide to close.”

But a headteacher in Suffolk last night blamed a “compensation culture” after nearly a quarter of the county's schools were closed because of a flurry of snow showers.

Howard Lay, whose Samuel Ward Upper School and Technology College in Haverhill was not shut, said the reaction was a “disappointing reflection of our time.”

Stansted Airport was up and running again late in the morning after staff cleared more than half a million square metres of snow using more than 40 snow-clearing vehicles.

Thousands of people were left waiting after the closure just after 6am but the airport eventually re-opened at 11am.

About 100 departing flights were cancelled and two were diverted into Stansted with a further five away from the airport.

A spokesman said: “It's going into the thousands, the number of people who have been affected.

“Overall, about 31,000 people were departing today and most will still get out today.”

He said the weather would continue to have an impact for the rest of the night, but the airport should be back to normal today.

Snowbound skiers Virginia Elworthy and Jamin Piggott passed the time by testing the slopes outside Stansted Airport. The couple, both 27 and from New Zealand, were stuck after their flight to the Alps was cancelled.

While they waited for another flight, they entertained passers-by by putting on a snowboarding display on a grass bank near the short-stay car park.

Rail passengers and motorists also experienced minor delays and problems yesterday morning.

However, there was praise from police chiefs and ambulance operators, who said motorists had done well to adapt to the conditions and no major accidents were reported.

A spokesman for Essex Police said it had received more than 400 snow-related calls, with around 46 being minor road accidents and the rest mainly made up of calls about youths throwing snowballs.

He said: “We also received seven calls of large snowballs causing obstructions in a few roads. All roads in the county are now re-opened and traffic is moving freely.”

Despite the wintry conditions, the East of England Ambulance Service said it had coped “very well” and of the snow-related accidents, most were people who had suffered “falls and bumps” while out and about.

Glenn Young, general manager of the health and emergency operations centre, said: “Thanks should also go to the public for heeding the advice not to make unnecessary 999 calls, to avoid unnecessary journeys, and to ensure they are fully equipped if they do have to go outdoors.

nOne service hit by the frost and snow was the refuse and recycling collections in Chelmsford, which were cancelled due to the difficulty in accessing side roads affected.

Thursday's collections will now take place tomorrow in order to minimise disruption to collection schedules.

nJim Bacon, from Weatherquest, said: “We haven't had any reports of huge amounts of snow, probably in the region of between one or two inches.

“Friday is likely to be dry and bright after the fog has cleared but it will cloud over late in the day with some rain and heavy sleet in the late evening.”

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