Weather: County council seeks explanation after more than half of Suffolk’s schools shut for snow

Graham Newman

Graham Newman - Credit: Archant

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

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.

Most Read

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.”