Thousands of schools forced to put new term on ice

8th January 2010 at 00:00
Children across the country enjoy extended holidays as snow and ice cause mass closures

The Christmas holidays continued for tens of thousands of pupils this week as severe weather closed schools across the country.

Thousands of schools decided to close due to unsafe and icy conditions, burst pipes and boiler failures, and poor access to transport routes.

Even many that at first decided against the unplanned extension of the Christmas break and struggled to open eventually had to concede defeat to heavy snowfall that affected both urban and rural areas.

Dora Plant, headteacher of Ashbrow Infant School in Kirklees, West Yorkshire, took more than two hours to make her three-mile commute.

"I left at 6.40am and didn't get in until 9.20am," she said. "There was a car accident at the end of my street and when I got to the main road it was crawling pace. I could have walked faster."

After battling in, Mrs Plant decided to close the school on Tuesday until the weather had passed.

"We took the decision to close on health and safety grounds," she said. "The snow came down heavily and we made the decision because we were told roads were impassable."

There were similar problems at the other end of the country for Ian Dickerson, head of Horwood and Newton Tracey Community Primary School in Barnstaple, Devon.

"The main roads on the way to school are all closed, as are roads from the opposite direction," he said. "Rural north Devon is not the easiest place to drive around because of the hills. I only stayed in school briefly because the bad weather was really setting in."

This year's snowfall follows similarly inclement weather in February last year, which led to the closure of an estimated 8,000 schools. At the time heads faced criticism for shutting schools too quickly, which some said gave children the wrong message about battling through in adverse conditions.

The protests were more muted this time round, although John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, conceded that it was impossible to keep all parents happy all the time. "There is a presumption to keep schools open, but health and safety of the children in schools is a head's prime responsibility. Can you get enough staff in to manage pupils' safety?

"If a parent complains, my advice would be to refer them to the parent who called the day before with the complaint `why have you stayed open?' You're damned if you do, damned if you don't."

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