Snow days always seem to divide public opinion, but the decision to close a school is not an easy one for a school to take. It’s a situation where you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, as there will always be those parents who are unhappy with the decision.
Schools do not wish to close their doors unnecessarily. Firstly, teachers want to be teaching and not losing time, especially in the run-up to public examinations in a few months’ time. Days off school mean valuable lessons lost, planning time wasted, and puts pressure on completing assessments and content for all groups in the reduced time allotted.
But when faced with a forecast of potentially dangerous weather, schools need to weigh up the benefits of remaining open against the more cautious approach of closure. Schools are responsible for the safety and welfare of students and staff on their site, so if there is snow or ice on the ground this needs to be cleared to allow safe access. No school has the spare funds to be able to pay for costly legal suits and, in the light of budget cuts, site staff are often thin on the ground.
Additionally, schools need to try to ensure it is possible for both staff and students to complete their journeys to and from the school safely. In most primary schools, the majority of students live reasonably close by and journeys in snow are therefore a little simpler. In most secondaries there are many students reliant on bus services for their journeys. If those bus companies decide it’s not safe to run their fleet on the roads, this could potentially leave hundreds of students stranded in the cold. And in most schools, the staff travel further than the children to get to school. If many staff are unable to get in to school, this can lead to chaos, with the need to collapse classes at short notice and make do with the staffing available.
Once a decision is taken to close a school, of course this passes the difficulty of arranging transport and childcare on to parents and for this reason, wherever possible, it’s helpful to give parents some notice. They may well be stuck in traffic themselves with frequent accidents on the roads when snow arrives.
Sitting at home today, looking out at the arctic tundra outside my window, I am delighted that my headteacher took the brave decision to close the school yesterday. I wish for her that all she needed to do was weigh up the safety of her staff and students and not balance this against the fear of a social media backlash from disgruntled parents, half of whom complaining that the school had been kept open for the morning despite forecasts, the other half that it had been closed at all. Whilst I understand the difficulties parents face when schools close unexpectedly (and I do have a child myself!) I would rather the knowledge that no member of our school community was forced to take to the roads today and risk their safety for the sake of 6 lessons’ learning. Being a headteacher carries enough pressure without having to face trial by Facebook over tough decisions taken in rapidly changing situations.
We will find a way to catch up on the work lost, but at least we will all be back in school on Monday, safe and sound.