Why be so frosty about a day in the snow?

16th February 2007 at 00:00
After the snow came the usual floods of protest. The Daily Telegraph, for example, featured outrage from several readers over the supposedly spineless closing of schools. As the columnist Simon Heffer put it, "Was it simply that some teachers fancied a day off as well?"

He is right. Teachers did fancy the day off. Apart from anything else, we own some of the worst cars in the land. Our staff car-park could pass as the forecourt of an especially unscrupulous used-car dealer. For many teachers it is a fluke if their car makes it to school at all, even on a fine day. Certainly, last Thursday's weather would have killed off some of those vehicles, and possibly one or two drivers.

"You'll need a better excuse than that," I hear those letter-writers cry.

And they'd be right. It is quite a poor excuse. My father was telling me recently of the brave rural primary head he used to work with in his early days in education administration in the North Riding of Yorkshire. There was a Mrs Smith who ran a village school where the roll was usually about eight. Despite several feet of snow one morning, she set out for work in her car regardless, determined to open her school. Her car got stuck after sliding down into the wrong dale. She left the car and tried to march the remaining miles through deep snow. "Mrs Smith's not made it," came a wire to county HQ later that morning, although she was later found safe and well, sheltering in a barn.

Admirable fortitude. So I would not bother waving the much-derided health and safety card at those Telegraph letter-writers. No, forget schools' and bus companies' (albeit justifiable) concerns today over road safety and parents suing when a child is injured on ice. There was surely a much better reason for closing all snow-ridden schools last week.

Most children will be fortunate to experience more than a handful of such days in their entire lives. A rare, gloriously disorganised and often deeply romantic day of snow, snowmen, sledging and snowballing is something we all look back on with immense warmth and affection for the rest of our lives.

Much as certain Telegraph readers might like to believe otherwise, another day spent in our classrooms is not always going to be the best option for a young person, even if it might usually be. Sometimes, special days will come along. Not just snowy days but also, say, blissful days in June when all human instinct tells us we should be somewhere else; days that will add far more to a child's life than anything we can offer, when the loss of "precious exam preparation time" seems a nonsense in the greater scheme of things.

Yes, we still have a responsibility to equip young people with qualifications for the future in a world of increasing competition. But preparing young people for life should not be at the expense of giving them a life too.

Stephen Petty Is Head Of Humanities At Lord Williams'S School In Oxfordshire

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