The snow must go on: head kips at school to be ready for Ofsted next morning

10th December 2010 at 00:00

When headteacher Jennie Carter got the call from Ofsted, she explained that she would love a school inspection, but unfortunately a massive snowfall was predicted.

Snow, said the lead inspector from his home in Bath, would not deter him. He would be there in two days' time.

"I said: 'I don't think you should be coming'," said Mrs Carter, head of Churchill school, a 420-pupil primary in Hawkinge, Kent. "The forecast is dire. We will be really snowed in."

But it takes more than a Siberian-style snowstorm to stop Ofsted. So that evening Mrs Carter packed her pyjamas, washbag and hot water bottle - her staff did the same - and the next day they arrived back at school prepared to sleep there overnight.

As the snow worsened, Mrs Carter knew she would be bedding down for the night in order to welcome the inspector the next day.

"We were working until 8pm or 9pm to get ready for Ofsted and the road down the hill had been closed," she said. "By then, it was far too dangerous for us to go home.

"I decided to stay on the bed in the medical room, and a couple of other teachers decided to stay in school with me on mattresses in the sensory room. A number of others stayed with teaching assistants who lived locally."

Mrs Carter had rung the lead inspector earlier in the day, who insisted he would still be arriving, as previously arranged, even though three of his colleagues had dropped out because of the weather.

Mrs Carter and the teachers raided the breakfast club box and ate crumpets for tea, with emergency soup from the staffroom.

"I didn't persuade the others to stay. I just said this is what I was going to do. My deputy head didn't stay because he has young children and so he went home, but he's worried he's lost street cred now."

Adrenaline and the thin mattress meant Mrs Carter woke at 4am - by which time the snow was falling "like goose feathers", she said. By 6am, it was almost 2ft deep.

The caretaker and business manager managed to clear a way into the school and the cook and most of the children managed to get in.

Two inspectors arrived at 9.30am and a third arrived for part of Friday. The report is due next week; in 2008, the school was judged satisfactory, with some good aspects.

Mrs Carter said: "I think the inspection went really well. The children were not allowed on the playground but they went on the field and built igloos and snowmen. Ofsted even saw one lesson which was taken partly outside."

The snow melted at the end of last week, but there have been some flurries since.

Mrs Carter said: "I was walking down the corridor and said to the children if it gets too snowy you will not come in, and they said: 'This school never closes; we have too much fun in the snow'."

An Ofsted spokesman said: "Inspections may be deferred in exceptional circumstances, but Ofsted will always seek to work around a school's situation.

"For example, when the weather is extreme and a school asks for the inspection to be cancelled or postponed, we will make a decision based on the conditions at the time.

"A school's decision to stay open in difficult circumstances may well reflect favourably on its grade for leadership and management."

CLOSURES - Second week of whiteout havoc

Thousands of school pupils enjoyed extra days off again this week as the snow continued to cause disruption.

About 700 schools were closed in Northern Ireland, and some 900 shut in Scotland.

Dozens of pupils and teachers had to spend the night at Hamilton College, an independent school in South Lanarkshire.

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