Snow closures – avoidable?

Those beautiful, uniquely designed flakes of crystal water are with us again. Yes, it is snow! If you are a Christmas card designer it is manna from heaven. If you are in any other profession I suspect it is a bit of a nuisance.

Snow via Google

Up until recent years, apart from our colleagues in Scotland, heavy falls of snow were not regular occurrences. They were often a bit of a surprise & for the most part were occasions to ‘Ooo’ and ‘Ah’ at. However, our seasons are changing and the weather patterns that accompany them appear to be becoming more severe. The weather forecasters talents are much needed for the predictions because unfortunately, snow fall still equates with chaos in our country. Traffic comes to a standstill and schools are closed.
When snow has been heavy in the past it seemed that a handful of schools were not able to open. Most of those would be in the rural areas where neither staff, supplies nor children could get in. Over the last few years, the number needing to close has exploded.
This initially is met with delight as children spend the day skating and sliding on trays for sledges. Parents can usually get the time off because invariably, they cannot get into work. As these days increase however, this joy is replaced by frustration and in some cases anger. Parents struggle to find child care, children become bored and what started as a celebration of one of natures wonders turns into a damn inconvenience.
So…should schools close? Do they close too soon? The reasons for a school to close are likely to either be lack of staff or health and safety. Some Local Authorities ask staff who are unable to get to their own school to report to the school nearest them. How practical this is (if it happens!) I don’t know.
The health and safety aspect is very real. Children just cannot resist searching out that bit of ice and sliding. They just have to pick up that snow and form it into a ball and throw it. School caretakers only have so much salt and grit available for paths if they have been able to clear them before the start of school. Which paths are under the safety jurisdiction of the school? Can any injuries caused outside the school gate be brought into the head teacher with demands of ‘You should have done something about that!’
We live in a litigious society now. It seems that many folk are on the look out to make a quick buck often by blaming someone for their misfortune. Schools are used to parent’s complaints but can you imagine how those shoot through the roof when there is snow around?
Head teachers will also have to weigh up those safety factors with the pressure from Governors and Local Authorities demanding that the time is made up. It is, after all, precious learning time that is being missed. However, attendance is a big enough issue with parents taking children out of school when the holiday companies reduce the prices to go ‘out of season’. Can you imagine the battle with parents and staff  if ‘holiday’ days have to become ‘school days’? Perhaps a leaf should be taken out of the private school culture of working on Saturday mornings.
Maybe the answer lies in VLPs. Virtual Learning Platforms which allow children to do school work from the comfort of their own homes. Most homes have internet access so why not use it for learning purposes. Unfortunately, with the budget cuts, many IT schemes are likely to be scrapped in favour of ‘more traditional’ methods of class based teaching.
Perhaps we need to take advantage of school closures to do some creative thinking outside the box on how we can square the circle of the safety needs against the learning needs of our children. Either that or pray to the snow fairy not to visit often!

What is the policy about closing your school? Do you agree with it?

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  • Alistair

    My school tries not to close but this week we have failed to keep open as the snow was just too bad. So we are definitely looking to some kind of online solution. We saw someone demonstrating a new online tool two weeks ago that looked so easy we signed up immediately – it helped that it is free – we have been set up now and will be working to develop our use of it so we are ready for the next snow. The moople site uses an “app-like” interface just like Android and iPhone with things called widgets, which I had never heard of before. Also, the guy who showed it seemed to know his stuff. We’ve started making our own widgets and it is so easy.
    It’s not full of features but that’s what we like as it makes it so simple to use for my non-technical staff. It also uses the Google Apps suite and we are working towards using it to get the kids doing something “different” when we close again where they can try some collaborative activities when they are stuck at home.
    So whilst we will still try to remain open we now have something different to offer the kids when we ave to close.

  • Andrew Hampton

    At @ThorpeHall we basically don’t close and I feel strongly that schools who close pass on the H and S issues to someone and somewhere else. Kids not at school with parents at work is not good idea and all because a Head worries about staff journeys to work or a slippery path. Actually we don’t live in anything like as litigious society as some would have us believe. I think schools should stay open and Heads should be held accountable for unnecessarily closing schools.

  • Carl Smith

    How long before the first child/parent sues the school for RSI caused by too much time on the VLE?

  • Alison peterson

    You really should have asked someone to proofread this before posting. Punctuation leaves a lot to be desired. I sincerely hope you are not a head teacher.
    “Thinking outside the box”; “Squaring the circle”. What on earth does this mean?

  • I’m far from convinced that budget cuts mean that IT schemes need to be scrapped, and a case could be made that the UK’s future economic prosperity kind of depends on having a workforce that are capable, confident and creative with technology.
    There is more to learning than the national curriculum, and we perhaps should be too eager to take back the occasions for some independent, informal learning which the snow provides, whether this be at school or at home. Perhaps a day or two spent learning about the things ones really interested in, and maybe sharing that with the other folk in the school via the web is too good an opportunity to miss.
    In schools where the curriculum is a meticulously constructed grand slalom, a snow day or two introduces a heaven-sent opportunity for a chance to go a little off-piste.

    • Anonymous

      I do hope you are right and that people take advantage of the situation to explore other ways of learning. I also hope you are right about the finances. I fear that some authorities will make cuts in IT rather than expanding as is necessary!
      Many thanks for stopping by!

    • Wonderful, although I think there may be a joke there about parents’ resilience in such matters after more than a few days …:)

  • I teach in a special school and the students are brought to school on buses. These buses run around the back streets of Nottinghamshire (as well as main roads) which are never gritted. Whilst we would often choose to stay open, the decision is taken out of our hands by the transport companies who (rightly) have the last call on whether to run or not.
    I would love to sit at home and use a VLE to communicate with our children – but our local authority (Nottinghamshire) chose in their infinite wisdom to use Fronter which is an absolute pig (no matter how much lipstick you put on it) and looks like a platform from the 80’s. The staff can’t use it, the students can’t use it so it’s a monumental waste of cash.
    Combine this with the problem of very low student literacy (all of our students are statemented) and family poverty (many of our students don’t have internet or even a landline coming into the house, never mind a laptop) and you can see why a VLE doesn’t work for us – but might for others in different circumstances.
    I’ve been caught out for this snow closure – we so rarely close that I was convinced we would open and left my planning, working, diary, laptop etc at work. Whilst I can access my emails and the documents stored in my ‘dropbox’, my productivity is severely limited whilst we are closed – in common with the students!

    • Anonymous

      I can imagine how cross you must be about not bringing the right things home. Has happened to me!! LAs really do need to spend the money appropriately. I think most of the time they don’t have a clue and get bamboozled by spin. Many thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you again!

  • Anonymous

    I think this is a really tricky one and a question we face at the office too. We run training courses for school staff every day and when there is snow we get very mixed reactions. I have known delegates and lecturers battle for hours in the snow to attend training events. On one occasion a lot of helpful information was exchanged in a cafe in Victoria Train station when neither lecturer or the one loan delegate who had battled the snow could make it any further! However, some staff assume that if their school is closed that they should not be expected to attend a training course (as everyone else is having a day off). It is very difficult for us to make the call as to whether to run courses or not as whilst we don’t want to encourage people to make unnecessary or dangerous journeys, we appreciate it can be very difficult for staff to rearrange the time away from school to attend training. On the whole we try and run courses whereever possible. It will be interesting to see how many delegates make it to our events today!
    So far as school is concerned, I love your idea of the VLE – much as we have all our staff working remotely from home today, students / teachers could perhaps do the same. It is highly frustrating especially if the snow continues for more than a day or two, to think of all the lost teaching time. I always remember a training course I attended which had a lot of scary statistics about the correlation between attendance and achievement. After all, kids can’t learn unless they’re in school… not unless we seriously explore some of the other avenues you’re suggesting here…
    (on the plus side, there has been lots of great educational chat on twitter whilst teachers have been off!)
    I highlighted your post in my Daily Digest of Education related blogs today as I thought other teachers would find it of interest. You can see it here:

  • Alison

    My children attend two school next door to each other – a primary and secondary. Last January the primary school stayed open all through the snow, although the playground was closed. Most of the children live locally and walk to school. The secondary school was closed for two days because many children (and staff) live in outlying villages and the coaches could not pick children up as roads were too icy. You can imagine how difficult a situation this was for my youngest who felt a strong sense of indignation at not getting the chance to go sledging with her sisters! Ultimately it has to up to the head teacher to make the decision that is in the best interests of the school. However the issue of “attendance” in general is one which has to be balanced. Parents are under huge pressure to reduce the absence rate of children and this means that seemingly capricious decisions to close a school because of a bit of snow can lead to difficulties

    • Anonymous

      Many thanks for stopping by and giving a parent’s view. It must be really annoying all round when there are such inconsistencies. Somehow we need to have some agreements at these times.

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  • I think there are lots of very valid reasons for not attending an educational institution when the weather is really bad and conditions are – or could become – dangerous. Some of these are immediate to the people in the place, some are more distributed e.g. less traffic trying to get to places with attendant issues.
    Whereas in the past it was really big issue of non attendance, now it should be a case of alternative provision. I’d like to se a requirement that schools etc have a ‘snow plan’ as to what they will do and how they will continue to provide education. It could be a great opportunity to use this as a trojan horse to push through ‘about time too’ changes to how we work!
    It needs to be handled far more proactively – the ad hoc decision making needs to be repalced with serious and sensible deadlines – children en route to school to be told the school is shut is not acceptable.
    There has to be notice, there has to be time for alternative arrangements to be made, and there has to be alternative provision – so its not a ‘day off’.
    Then maybe we could see some of the cost savings………

    • Anonymous

      I heartily agree with you Roger. The way the decisions are taken to close can lead to some schools remaining open whilst others down the road close. We do need to think about a ‘strategic plan’. After all we have snow often enough for it not to be that once in a life-time happening! Many thanks for commenting – hope to see you again!

  • We have been discussing this over the years in FE and HE and really still we have a culture of closure when it snows (or floods or swine flu or ash clouds or tanker driver strikes or….)
    Part of the problem is the language, snow, floods and swine flu all have the potential bring our physical campus to a halt, for valid health and safety reasons.
    Institutions announce via local radio and the web that they are closed to students and staff. In most institutions such crises effectively bring the entire workforce to a halt. Despite the digital options available, the word ‘closed’ implies that no (formal) activity will take place, and sends the message to staff and students that they do not need to go to work, or even do any work, even if they could.
    Culturally, most institutions do not incorporate online or virtual learning into everyday working cultures, at any level: management, staff or students. Those who do not routinely use digital options can’t see that closing the physical institution need not have a significant impact on the business of the institution, if that business can be carried out at home or online. The issue is not to focus upon contingency planning, but to focus on changing the way people work when there isn’t snow and changing the way people think when there is.
    Changing the culture is going to take time, having access to the right tools can help, but attitude towards those tools is just as important. Culturally we have some way to go I think before snow or any other “disaster” only closes the physical location and doesn’t close the institution.

    • Anonymous

      I totally agree with you James. It is the mind-set that needs chanign. I think we will need to change ots of thinking with the way snow brings us as a country to our knees. After all, other countries manage year on year without any fuss! Many thanks for visiting. Hope to see you again!

  • Helen

    We are not closed today their is 5-8 inches of snow. I work at a college and the students that are in seem quite happy to be here. We don’t have alot of the play ground issues schools have. Though I have also recieved emails from 2 of my students asking to look at their work online and what they should be completing at home.
    Health and safety is a consideration especially as so many of our students drive. I don’t know what the answer is but I’m here works and so are the students

    • Anonymous

      Well done you (& them!) You seem to have an alternative for them to use if they cannot get in. Many thanks for stopping by!

  • We closed at lunchtime yesterday and have a snow day today. I’ve set up a ‘snow day dairy’ forum and ‘snow describing words’ challenge on Fronter, our VLP. It’s great to see some responses!

    • Anonymous

      Thank sounds great. Did you see the comment above about Fronter? Do you find it works ok? Many thanks for popping in! Hope to see you again!

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