Summer of floods leaves pupils feeling high and dry

11th September 2009 at 01:00
Academics find that 2007's climate chaos left a traumatic legacy in Hull despite kids' delight at new facilities

There are no happy pupils or teachers in the imagination of this child, the drawing above simply showing a bleak portrait of a world devastated by water.

Two years on, the memories of freak floods remain traumatic for the school population in Hull, where 91 primary and secondaries were damaged during chaotic weather in June 2007.

Lessons have gone back to normal and classrooms have been renovated and reopened, but, according to researchers completing the first study of its impact on the city's young, for many of the 36,558 children affected the bad memories haven't gone away.

Academics from three universities have spent months speaking to children in two Hull schools to see if the flood has had a lasting impact in the classroom. They have found pupils more appreciative of their new facilities and relieved to be back in a safe classroom, but they have yet to recover from the dramatic events that still dominate their time at home.

Most of the children who suffered in the Hull floods missed about five days of school. For older pupils in the middle of exams, this had a much more serious effect, with students having to revise in caravans and other temporary accommodation.

Initially, exam boards refused to take these difficulties into account, even in cases where pupils had lost coursework. But after pressure from the school and politicians, the marks of dozens of pupils have been reconsidered.

The worst hit secondary was Sydney Smith School. Every ground-floor room suffered water damage up to four feet, and the repair and refurbishment bill came to #163;5.8 million.

Children there told staff from Lancaster University - who, together with colleagues from the universities of Middlesex and Surrey, were given #163;95,000 from Hull City Council, the Environment Agency and the Economic and Social Research Council - that they had to grow up fast during the events. They said they were now aware of things they wouldn't have considered before, such as insurance.

Pupils at Thorpe Park Primary were evacuated from the school only half an hour after they arrived one morning when water levels started rising quickly. It didn't reopen for another eight months and children spent time in two other schools.

"This was very traumatic for them, especially for those sent to a secondary school," said researcher Marion Walker. "They were worried about being with the 'big children' and they told us it was stressful.

"They were so glad to get back into their own school, and thrilled with the new toilets, interactive whiteboards and desks and chairs.

"But overall we found the experiences were different for each child and very dependent on their family backgrounds. Many at the secondary school hadn't known each other before, but their experiences of taking part in the flood project brought them together."

The researchers were wary of upsetting the 60 pupils, so conducted their research via workshops, creative writing and informal discussions. They also took the children to see a flood-inspired play at the local theatre. Children were given "storyboards" to record their memories. They drew dirty raindrops and skips.

The interviews, which took place last term, are now being analysed by the researchers.

The researchers are also hoping to discover what support pupils were given from teachers and other officials and how this was different from the help given to their family. They also want to know how well teachers handled the flooding of the classrooms and the lessons they learnt that may help prevent damage in the future.


The 2007 floods were devastating for schools in central and northern England. In water-hit regions, numbers of schools lost teaching days, including 91 in Kingston-upon-Hull, 72 in East Riding, 72 in Doncaster, 66 in Sheffield, 27 in Lincolnshire, 6 in Nottinghamshire, 4 in Derbyshire and 2 in Rotherham.

In Doncaster, 6 schools were damaged and closed at some point. In the East Midlands, 5 schools had all pupils in temporary premises.

The Government gave #163;10m to the regions for repairs, quick surveying work, temporary accommodation, summer activities for children made homeless and family support. Ofsted and exam boards were asked by the Department for Children, Schools and Families to take the disruption into account.

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