Snow joke for schools that defied weather

15th May 2009 at 01:00
Primary fears it will be penalised for poor attendance after only a third of pupils made it in

A south london primary that opened despite the snowfall at the start of February believes it will be criticised for high absenteeism because few pupils turned up.

Schools were widely criticised for staying closed during the cold weather but, according to Childeric Primary School in Lewisham, those that did open will see their attendance records suffer.

Charts kept by local authorities show such schools in a bad light, while those that closed have not had their rankings changed.

Teachers at Childeric had been working for months to tackle poor attendance rates, but all their efforts are in danger of being undone by the weather. Their target was to get attendance above 92 per cent. Staff had been making progress until two-thirds of pupils were off when snow brought Britain to a standstill.

The school closed on the first day because of treacherous roads and limited public transport. But on the second day teachers struggled in - the deputy head walked 15 miles to get there. But just 100 of the 300 pupils turned up.

"We've had a problem with attendance and have had a real blitz on the issue recently," said Dinah Griffiths, the chair of governors. "It's a long- term project, but our attendance figures have gone down badly and we don't want to be treated as if we are making excuses.

"The irony is, if we had closed, we wouldn't have this problem. My headteacher's view is that the school is there for the community and once public transport started we were able to open.

"It came at the worst possible time. Our Ofsted inspection is imminent. The Government seems to be refusing to be flexible on this issue. I hope they review the data.

"We opened and we are proud of that and we would do it again. The parents of the 100 children who did come in were very pleased."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said any inspector would understand what had happened. "Where children have been absent from school because of the snow, this will be marked as authorised absence, unless the school is closed. Ofsted does take into account whether some absence is due to circumstances like snow."

Parents' groups nationally claimed school closures set a bad example to pupils, while business leaders criticised the disruption school closures caused. Estimates of the number of schools that closed varied, but around 8,000 were shut on the second day of the snow.

Education officials in Leicestershire came under fire for saying that teachers who failed to make "reasonable efforts" to get in should have their pay docked in order to "minimise disruption in future".

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