Pupils spend night locked in with staff as floods cut off school

27th July 2007 at 01:00
Dramatic start to the summer holidays as rising waters force pupils to be rescued from schools and activities are abandoned. Balls pledges pound;4 million to fix damage and get everything back to normal next term

mike cocker, head of Wootton Wawen primary school, in rural Warwickshire, knew it was time to start calling the parents when the local river Alne broke its banks and started advancing up the road towards the school. Local farmers also answered his calls and turned out to help with tractors to ferry children and parents to dry land.

It was the last day of term but the Year 6 leavers' party had to be cancelled and so did the school fete. Instead of an afternoon of fond farewells and the anticipation the long school holidays, the children waited in the school hall to be picked up early by their parents as the school was evacuated.

The last parent managed to battle through the floods and arrived just before 6pm. Mr Cocker was still there and carried the last child through the flood on his shoulders.

His determination to keep his pupils safe was replicated throughout Central England last Friday as the summer term came to a dramatic end in torrential downpours which caused flash floods and rivers to burst their banks.

At Bampton primary in Oxfordshire, Mary Dodge, the head, was forced to abandon a Victorian open day and send teachers and pupils home early. "Some staff managed to grab a few things before their houses were flooded," she said.

At Cherry Orchard primary in Worcester, fire and police officers waded through thigh-deep water to deliver children to parents.

Staff and pupils at Vale of Evesham special school in Evesham, Worcestershire, found themselves trapped after many of the roads and bridges near the school were made impassable by torrential rain. By the time night fell, there were 37 pupils and 33 members of staff still on the premises.

Ann Starr, the head, arranged for additional medication to be flown in by helicopter. "Cook came back to make us tea," said Mrs Starr. "Then we got the crash mats out and sleeping bags. Morale was high: playing football in the hall at 11pm isn't something youngsters normally get to do. But some parents were out all night trying to get here."

Staff slept on available armchairs and beanbags: Mrs Starr pushed together three chairs. By 4am, she was up and looking for damage. The school is on a hill and so escaped direct flooding. Despite fears that they might be stranded for a second night, by Saturday evening all the pupils had been claimed by parents.

"We were tired, really tired," said Mrs Starr. "Because it was the end of term, we all thought we were going on holiday. But the main thing is that we were safe, we were warm and we were dry."

The teachers at Holmer primary in Hereford were forced to return to school within days of the end of term to help salvage equipment from the floods, carrying it up to the first floor. Furniture was piled up to limit damage.

A spokeswoman for Herefordshire council said: "The school was totally surrounded by water. It looked like it had a moat around it. And the whole place smelled of damp towels. But the head says they needed new carpet anyway."

The school was the worst affected of six schools within the county's flood basin. Within days of the flooding, contractors had been called in to oversee repairs and redecoration. The authority is confident that all its schools will reopen as normal in September.

Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, this week announced pound;4 million of funding to help repair schools. The priority was to get as many pupils as possible back to school at the start of next term, he said. It was too early for a comprehensive assessment of damage, he said, but it was clear some schools would be in temporary accommodation in September.

His department revealed that of the 120 schools damaged by the floods which hit Yorkshire, the Humber and Hull at the end of last month, 24 are still unusable.

Meanwhile Heywood community school in Cinderford in the Forest of Dean was able to run its summer school, despite being taken over by flood victims. Andy Barrow, the centre manager, said the refugees had made full use of the school's facilities. "We've turned the staffroom into a baby room and the gym is being used for sleeping."

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