When should schools close for snow? Plus links to find out if your school has closed
- Credit: Archant
Headteachers face an “impossible” task of deciding whether to close their school due to snow and fear looking “foolish” later in the day if forecasts prove to be inaccurate, education leaders say.
School leaders will decide on Monday morning if they need to close after the first heavy widespread snowfall hit the region on Sunday (see a photo gallery here).
Headteachers make the decision, usually before 7am, and their main consideration is health and safety, particularly for pupils.
Schools are advised to make a decision to close as early as possible, in order to inform parents and carers in good time.
A risk assessment is conducted taking into account factors including:
- The state of pathways, steps and slopes around the school
- Condition of roads and pathways in the local area
- If the school’s heating, lighting and water is working correctly
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- Whether catering can be provided
- Availability of public transport and school coaches
- The weather forecast
Schools may also need to close due to other unforeseen circumstances, such as heating failures and structural issues.
Graham White, Suffolk representative at the National Education Union, said schools should close in certain circumstances due to snow, such as when the adverse weather poses a danger to pupils, if the school has insufficient staff numbers, and if a substantial number of pupils cannot travel to school due to bus service cancellations.
He said: “Heads are in an impossible situation: open and risk injury to staff or pupils, or close and risk the wrath of parents who now have their children at home. Schools are for education not childminding.
“It is very unfortunate that parents are inconvenienced by snow and school closures, but safety is paramount.”
He said a light dusting of snow is unlikely to close schools but if weather conditions make driving hazardous, or school buses are cancelled, then school closure should be given “serious consideration”.
He added: “Most staff do not live close to school and some do not live on gritted road routes, so driving may be considered potentially dangerous. We should not be advising anyone to drive in conditions that put their and others’ safety in question.
“The headteacher knows their staff and pupils best and so is in the best position to make the judgement call.”
In a recent letter to parents of pupils at Northgate High School in Ipswich, co-headteachers David Hutton and Rowena Mackie wrote: “We would like to stress in response to previous media coverage that closing the school is not a decision that is taken lightly by headteachers.
“As a group we dislike having to make a decision before 7am that has the potential to make us appear foolish later that same day! Parental opinion is typically split, with roughly equal numbers complaining on snowy days if we close the school or keep it open.
“In making our decision prior to the start of a school day we will consider the safety of the school site (which will be fully inspected) and the likely danger to pupils, students and staff in making their journey to school. We have to keep in mind that while many of our Year 7 to 11 pupils can travel in by foot the vast majority of our staff cannot. The likelihood of having inadequate supervision clearly adds to safety concerns when conditions underfoot are dangerous and pupil behaviour is influenced by the possibility of ice and snow related activities!
“If the school is open at the start of the day and it begins to snow heavily during the day our considerations will be slightly different. In this situation we will weigh up the relative safety of pupils who are already on the site, compared to their likely safety if sent home. We will also try to judge if their journey home is likely to be more dangerous if delayed until the end of the school day. In this respect the decision may be different for Sixth Form students, many of whom travel long distances through rural areas.”
Lee Abbott, headteacher at Hillside Primary School in Ipswich, said: “I think schools should do all they can to open in all weathers, other than when it is impossible to open the site safely, for example, boiler failure, (when it is) impossible to clear paths, and insufficient staff to teach classes.
“However, it is a very challenging decision for heads and a decision to close is never taken lightly.
“At Hillside we risk assess the site, and staff’s journeys to school, to try and put appropriate plans in place to ensure the school opens because that is best for our learners and their families.”
Department for Education advice for schools states: “During severe weather conditions, such as flooding or snow, you should keep your school or early years setting open for as many children as possible.
“However, it might be necessary to close temporarily due to inaccessibility or risk of injury. You should do all you can to reopen as soon as possible.”