It's snow joke when the big freeze arrives

26th March 2004 at 00:00
Words like severe, Arctic, bitter, treacherous and warning had me pricking up my ears in the first two months of this year. Conditions that were once collectively known and accepted as "winter" now require difficult school management decisions about school closure, gleefully pounced upon by the media.

Severe weather warnings can cause headteachers' stress levels to rise in inverse proportion to the falling mercury.

I have to weigh up the pros and cons of closing the school. How many staff will get in? Those who took hours to get home the previous day will not relish the thought of setting off at an unearthly hour and risking life and limb.

What will be the adult-pupil ratio for supervision if only some staff make it to school? Can we herd all 365 kids into the hall and babysit them all day and breach health and safety? Or will we have large groups watching videos all day and breach copyright legislation instead?

What will be the reaction of parents of nursery children if I close it and keep the rest of the school open? If we stay open, how long will it be after 9am before we have to go through the horrendous process of contacting parents to tell them that the school is closing after all?

By 7am I've decided we will close. I contact the local radio station, which rather worryingly does not ask me for identification, and I request that it makes the announcement. I contact the school helpline and record a new severe weather message. I leave the required message at the education office. Then I spend the rest of the day praying for severe weather.

As soon as the school re-opened last time the flak was flying. An irate parent came in to berate me in front of an audience of office staff, parents and pupils. When she stopped to draw breath, I reminded her of the sources of information available to parents when the school is closed.

"I don't listen to the radio," was her departing remark. Perhaps we should build personal phone calls to parents into our emergency closure procedures.

Worse was to come a couple of days later when the snow in the playground and car park became compacted by the inevitable traverse of feet and tyres.

Some parents make it their annual business to come to tell me that "it's a disgrace" and to demand: "What are you going to do about it?"

One mother kept repeating, "Come out, just come out and see for yourself!"

Is she mad? I had seen it on my way in.

Another parent had a rant about grannies pushing cars out of the snow in the school car park. Our equal opportunities policy is working well, then.

We had a slight thaw but plenty of snow still lingered in areas. Enter another parent to tell me that the janitors could now clear it all away. I was never good at the kind of maths that meant working out how many days it would take to shovel snow at janitor pace from approximately 6,000sqm of ground, so I had to respond with a mild reference to job descriptions.

The local press printed a letter suggesting that, as teachers are local council employees, they should clear pavements when schools are closed. I wondered if the writer has relatives in Dyce.

Meanwhile, the kids got on with their usual snow revels, taking great delight in competing for "the wettest child" award.

Have parents forgotten the kind of fun they used to have themselves in the days before a bit of snow brought on a bout of mass hysteria? Or perhaps the head is the focus for their frustration over disruption to routines.

I'm considering having a sign made for my door, to be displayed for a week after a school closure: "Headteacher not available due to seasonal affective disorder - yours!"

Joan Fenton is headteacher of Dyce Primary in AberdeenIf you have any comments, e-mail

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