It's snow joke to close my school

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
Last Friday, like more than 460 other headteachers in Wales, I closed my school because of the snow. Thousands of children enjoyed an extra day of freedom.

But for many parents, it meant hastily arranged childcare or a frustrating day at home with the children. For staff it was an unexpected day to organise their own priorities or even arrange their own childcare.

However, heads do not close their schools lightly. On Friday, I woke up hoping for one of two things: first, two feet of snow on the pavement and a clear message from the media that anyone going out would need to enrol in an Artic expedition; or secondly, a light dusting of snow slowly melting with temperatures rising.

In reality, I faced a somewhat mixed bag of some frozen slush covered by an inch or two of powdery snow. I decided to walk to school (for the first time, even though it is only three miles away), and by the time I arrived I thought I would be in a better position to make any decision.

It was a good walk, mostly on flat ground, but as I came to the village itself and began to climb the various narrow roads I felt uneasy. We have very few pavements: how would a mother push a buggy and walk a child to school? What if a car suddenly hit a patch of ice and slid across the road? The side roads had not been gritted and it was still snowing, if only lightly.

The school caretaker greeted me - frantic parents were phoning and needed an answer. A decision had to be made. Some of my staff live nearly 40 miles away and driving conditions were not ideal. So I decided to close.

Uncertainty would have meant another 100 calls and and no guarantee that conditions would change. Most parents accepted and expected this answer, but did I get it right?

By 11am the snow was still there and, as the skies cleared, the slush below became more dangerous. If parents had had to come back at 3:30pm, the roads would have been icier and more treacherous.

Closing a school is one of the most difficult decisions to make. What is certain is that sometimes I will get it wrong, and the sun will shine and the snow will melt.

But if I do not close and an accident happens involving children, parents or staff, I would not be able to sleep at night. Children enjoy the sight of snow - I certainly do not.

Gwilym Jones is head of Ysgol Y Wern in Ystalyfera, Neath Port Talbot

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