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When school is too hot to handle

Hot spring weather in Germany has cancelled classes almost every day for the past six weeks, writes Yojana Sharma

A PROLONGED heatwave in eastern Germany has played havoc with the school timetable as children are sent home daily for a Hitzefrei, or heat-holiday.

German states rule that children must go home at 11am, after only three hours at school, if the room temperature reaches 25C by 10am. The rule is based on principles laid down more than 60 years ago which state that children are unable to concentrate in an overheated building. Unions have also insisted on the right of workers, including teachers, to be allowed home if the workplace is too hot.

All exams, apart from the Abitur, the school-leaving exam, are cancelled and no homework is given on Hitzefrei days, to the delight of schoolchildren whose most common wish in essays entitled: "If I were the Chancellor." is to declare Hitzefrei at 20 or lower.

Normally, only a few days before the summer break are affectedbut this year an unusually hot spring has caused chaos.

According to Gerlinde Schulz, a headteacher of a modern comprehensive in Berlin's Friedrichshain district, pupils have been sent home every day since Easter.

"We've been unable to operate our normal timetable," she says.

A school head in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin says almost 30 per cent of classes have been cancelled since mid-April.

Newer buildings with large windows facing east or south are particularly prone to Hitzefrei days, compared to older buildings with thicker, insulated walls. This means lessons are being dropped far more frequently than in pre-war years when the rule first came into force.

The tradition of Hitzefrei has become an irritation for working parents who are given only an hour's notice to collect their children. Heads say they have warned parents to expect early closures, but in many cases emergency care services have had to be organised.

International news, 14

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