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Last Updated: Friday, 3 March 2006, 17:57 GMT
Safety drives school snow closure
A school closed during ice and snow this week
Thousands of children were given an extra day off school in Wales
A senior headteacher says health and safety is the main reason why hundreds of schools close in wintry weather.

On Thursday, more than 400 schools in Wales were shut as heavy snow fell.

Chris Howard, headteacher of Lewis School in Pengam, south Wales, and a spokesman for the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) says it is a "difficult decision" to close a school.

But Helen Roberts, head of Ysgol Esgob Morgan in St Asaph, Denbighshire, believes some schools close too easily.

Mrs Roberts has shut the school only once in 10 years, and it was business as usual on Wednesday.

We are painfully aware of our duties under health and safety legislation - so we do err on the side of caution
Chris Howard, Lewis School, Pengam

"We're lucky that the majority of our pupils walk to school and most of our staff live locally," said Mrs Roberts.

"We make it clear to parents they are given a choice and no one is asked to make a risky journey. I feel strongly that the school should be open but common sense tells you you have to balance health and safety".

Mrs Roberts says the children had a "wonderful time" on Wednesday. Pupils who were appropriately dressed were supervised playing in the snow on the school field at lunchtime.

Attendance targets

Dozens of other schools in Denbighshire and neighbouring counties stayed shut. In some areas, roads had become impassable under several inches of snow.

Dr Chris Howard believes it can be "advantageous" for schools to close completely during bad weather because of attendance targets.

He explained that by closing, a school can avoid the risk of poor attendance figures because the day does not count in the statistics. Opening the school with many pupils absent does have an impact on the figures.

"If you struggle to stay open and pupils don't turn up you will do yourself a disservice", he said.

"Headteachers are the site managers of the schools and have direct responsibility for the health and safety of the pupils," said Dr Howard.

Access difficulties

"There may be ice and snow on yards - or access difficulties for buses. That's why schools may close even if the roads are open".

"As headteachers these days, we are painfully aware of our duties under health and safety legislation - so we do err on the side of caution".

Lewis School, which has 1,000 pupils, closed completely on Wednesday. Dr Howard said conditions were "dangerous". The school reopened on Thursday and Friday but only half the pupils attended.

A spokeswoman for the Welsh Assembly Government said closures were "a matter for local education authorities and individual schools".

"They would have to take account of whether staff and pupils are able to get to and from school safely in their area," said the spokeswoman.

Guidance was published by the Assembly Government in 2003. It states that "all decisions regarding school closures or sending children home early should be considered in light of the fact that every child is entitled to receive 190 days annual schooling".

We asked for your views on whether schools close too readily when snow falls. The following reflects a balanced selection of views received.

It seems that snow is just another excuse for teachers to have a day off. It snows in this country and has done for thousands of years yet the schools are so primitive that the first sign of bad weather and they shut. I agree that safety should come first but I think the schools take it too far.
Nikki, parent, Swansea

It seems to be that if two flakes of snow fall on a road or it's too cold and frosty parents decide that it's impassable and keep their children off school and stay off work themselves.

The schools should not be closed but paths in the school grounds cleared of snow and ice. There is no reason why children could not be kept indoors and supervised in a classroom during their breaks.

What happens in countries in mainland Europe, like Sweden, Finland, Poland and Russia when they have cold weather?? These countries have much more severe weather than the United Kingdom and Ireland yet life still goes on as normal and people deal with it.
Jonathan, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

"Just another excuse" Nikki? Teachers work hard at their job, many working from 7.30 till 6 during the week and also at weekends! Heads have a responsibility for safety of their students.
David Sims, Norfolk

One day off isn't really going to have that much of an impact on their education is it now? Let's enjoy life a bit more I say
Mrs Cox, Newport, south Wales
Of course schools do not shut too readily when snow falls. Why not let the children have a day off and enjoy the experience, it only happens maybe once a year, one day off isn't really going to have that much of an impact on their education is it now? Let's enjoy life a bit more I say.
Mrs Cox, Newport, south Wales

When my daughter arrived at school during the snow, she discovered that the teachers were bidding a hasty retreat home, before the pupils were told the school was closed. Another excuse for a day off. If the teachers are there and the pupils are there then what is the issue? Get on with lessons.
Richard, Cardiff

Of course schools do not shut too readily when snow falls, why not let the children have a day off and enjoy the experience. It only happens maybe once a year, one day off isn't really going to have that much of an impact on their education is it now? Let's enjoy life a bit more I say.
Mrs Cox, Newport, south Wales

As a parent I think that you have to put safety first. Even if the children are within walking distance, it is likely that staff travel some distance to get to work. On balance you put all at greater risk if you keep schools open in what for most of us is a fairly extreme weather condition.
Mark Anderson, Ruthin, Wales

"Many working from 7.30 till 6 during the week," David? What about the 65+ days holidays that teachers get each year? ??
Ceri, Pontypridd, South Wales

When a snow day is taken the schools should be required to make up the snow day by extending school year by the number of snow days taken off
S Adams, Troy, New York
Schools should remain open for those who can travel safely. I see no reason why teachers and staff should be allowed to remain home when all other sectors of the job market are required to get to work regardless of weather conditions. I also think that when a snow day is taken the schools should be required to make up the snow day by extending school year by the number of snow days taken off.
S Adams, retired taxpayer, Troy, New York, USA

Unfortunately in the current climate of fear I can understand that schools feel the need to close at the slightest risk of injury to one of their pupils. However, I think that it is time to take a step back and consider the definition of injury. As far as I am concerned my child slipping on a patch of ice and falling over is a part of education and not an issue for litigation. Haven't we all learned from our mistakes/experiments as children. I was disappointed in my daughter's case to hear that although the school was open the children were not allowed outside during the break and dinner times to experience the all-too infrequent enjoyment of playing in the snow. Is it not time that we as a society realised that life is full of risk and that apportioning blame for every small accident is just taking away some of the adventure of being alive by making everyone in any position of responsibility afraid of their own shadow?
Peter Cadwell, Cwmbran, South Wales

Some rural areas may have had difficulty, but the head should choose knowing that a day off for bad weather equals a day off the long summer holiday starting from day one... and what would happen to holiday bookings then, poor things.
Ros atack, bryniau, flints. Wales.

If enough teachers can't make it in then the school can't open. Don't forget that although the weather at the school may be relatively okay teachers come from all over the place and could be unable to get into work due to their local conditions.
John Kelly, Cardiff, Wales

I am a School Governor in a local Junior school, and therefore understand why some schools close. A majority of older school buildings have inadequate heating, old boilers, freezing pipework,leaky radiators, badly maintained roofs. All of these are very expensive to maintain and schools budgets do not cover all of these costs. Our schools should have better standards of maintenance supplied by the Welsh Government instead of wasting money on buildings that only are eye catching for tourists. Teachers also have further to travel to work in some cases, which in some respects is unavoidable. Finally there is the family element whereby if there is fairly thick snow on the ground will keep their children home from school rather than make the effort to take them.
Steven Jeffreys, Cardiff, Wales

As a parent of 2 young children and husband to a wife who also works in a school I could not believe that neither of them (3 different schools) attended on Wednesday. All within walking distance, whereas I commute to Cardiff by train and arrived at work on time! There is no doubt in my mind that schools close too readily for any excuse they can find.
Michael Howells , Ystrad Mynach, Caerphilly

It would be interesting to know how many schools shut down in the infamous 1962-63 Winter. I do not remember having a single day off school in that winter.
Geoff Hanlan, Sully

I had an enforced day off work due to bus services locally being suspended. Both my children also had to remain off school due to closures and lack of transport. Well I for one was grateful, there have been a number of traffic accidents locally, thankfully none of them involving my family. We had a wonderful day together building a snowman and sledging. What's the matter with everyone - don't parents enjoy playing with their kids anymore?
Janet, Wrexham North Wales

Closure of schools is very disruptive. As a result of 8/10 inches of fresh snow yesterday our local schools were closed but open as usual today. Lighter snowfall or overnight fall may result in late opening of schools but rarely in closure. Maybe its time local authorities had better bad weather plans in place in order to keep roads open and the UK moving.
Janine Powell, New York, USA

No, Children's safety is paramount. If Schools did not close then the pupils may get stranded at the school, which is not safe at all.
Jeff Ryan, Newbridge, Gwent

The health and safety of pupils and staff during this weather is paramount. The Headteacher has to look at the whole picture and make a decision whether to close a school or not within minutes. If something unfortunate did actually happen to an adult or child then he or she is held directly responsible. It is quite apparent that people are happy to point that judgemental finger at schools for closing during this inclement weather. Would these same people be happy for the school to put their own child at risk? Would they be happy to put other adults at risk and take the responsibility for it? If somebody could guarantee that an unhappy person would not seek legal advice then schools would stay open. But we live in the real world, don't we?
Gareth, Carmarthen, West Wales

Countries like Sweden,Poland,Russia etc are used to snow unlike us as our snow never lasts more than 24 hours theirs last for for letting the kids enjoy the snow while at school those days are long gone as there is always one who will put in a claim for something happening.we forget how great the teachers we have are and what a good job they do, would the parents of the school give money to a teacher to repair their car if they had an accident trying to get to school i don't think so somehow
Claire Lewis, penllergaer,swansea

We are a bunch of whining, indoorsy softies. If we can't drive them to school in perfect sunny dryness, we keep them at home.
Chris, Norfolk, UK

I think that people in this country are far too lazy, and that the first thing on their minds is that a bit of snow means a day off work! It's terrible!
Dr P Nesshead, Carmarthen, UK

I have to agree that this winter has been quite severe in some places. Last November, heavy snow fell across much of west Wales. Schools were still open which was amazing as 8cm had fallen and the snow never melted all day. I think a new system should be come up with. I think the schools shut this week because of the risk of more snow, and indeed there was during the course of Tuesday, wed and Thursday.
Marcus, Swansea, Wales

We live in a rural area where snow makes roads dangerous to drive on as the gritters/snow ploughs often don't make it out in time. In many cases the teachers can't make it to the school & unless pupils live within walking distance they can't either! I was relieved when I phoned my daughter's school to find that it was closed as I really didn't want the journey down the hills to school on icy roads in poor visibility. In my opinion our Headteacher made the right decision to close the school.
Karen, Flintshire, N Wales

I think they close schools to quickly and I think that teachers should be treated the same as civil servants and if they can't make it into their school then they should be expected to go to the school closet to them.
Richard Newbury, Barry, Wales

You call that snow? As an ex-pat living in Canada it made me chuckle to see such panic over a few flakes of the white stuff. Schools here will stay open in temperatures in the minus 20's and many feet of snow lying everywhere.
Dai Jones, Canada

School closure during the snow is not an issue to do with teachers, having time off or parents. More often that not where schools are open, the teachers are all present but pupil numbers in classes are into single figures. Quite often the bus companies do not operate in areas where the roads are untreated and rightly so, thus making it impossible for pupils to reach schools. This is more so the case where schools have vast catchment areas esp welsh language, rural and secondary schools. Another factor is whether or not hot school dinners are cooked on the school premises or whether they are transported from another school (if this school is closed it can cause problems.) Most importantly we must bear in mind that we are dealing with hundreds (if not thousands) of young lives, some as young as 3yrs old and in this case their safety must be put first.
R Jones, s.Wales

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