Posted by: njs44 | January 9, 2010

School closures

A lot has already been said over the past few days on the subject of school closures. That isn’t going to stop me adding my two-penn’orth. First I will quote a selection of comments from various places.

“I do urge headteachers, governors and education authorities to consider the consequences of school closures on parents who are then prevented from going to work. This has a disproportionate impact on women and can be devastating for single parents when no alternative childcare arrangements can be put in place at short notice.” (Boris Johnson)

“Take a proportionate approach. If the decision to close or remain open rests with you as a head, you will have to balance the risks arising from less supervision, late return journeys, minor slips and bumps, etc. against disruption to pupils’ learning.” (DCSF guidance)

“… even though my children’s school is closed, I made the decision for my family regardless of what the school were doing. In these days of climate change, I don’t know how many opportunities I will get to build a snowman with my children. So, by parental decree, they will not be going to school. We are all going out to build a snowman, have snowball fights, get wet and cold and then have hot chocolate.” (a parent commenting on the Guardian snowblog)

“Here on the South Coast we have around1-2 inches of snow and main roads are fine. BUT STILL ALL THE SCHOOLS ARE CLOSED.

Don’t teachers have any pride in getting to work and opening? Prefer a nice day off I guess. Imagine if A&E doctors, the Fire Service, the power and gas companies, the Police, the BBC and even Sainsbury’s were as pathetic as teachers. They have all managed to open – why can’t schools?” (also a comment on Guardian snowblog)

“I guess part of the problem for schools is the possible absence of both teachers and children due to the weather. You can open the school, but what do you do when 1 teacher isnt in? Send that specific class home? What to do if a number of kids cant make it due to weather conditions, maybe because mum is scared to drive her offspring down the slippery road? Tell these kids to check the homework of their peers the next day and let them sort it out for themselves? There are lots of different reasons why kids, teachers and other staff might not come in (they may live far away), and a school isnt as simple as a train to run. To prevent mayhem, crying children, accidents and lack of proper guidance due to absence, closing the schools is I guess the only option.” (comment from blog as above)

The National Association of Headteachers said: “Let’s just remind Boris and others that schools are places of learning and not creches for children.” (from BBC website)

In many ways schools are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Some parents enjoy spending extra time with their children, while others do not. Some schools opened at first and then had to call parents in the middle of the day to collect children as conditions worsened, or as it became clear that there were not enough staff to provide adequate cover.

Everyone agrees that, at the moment, journeys to and from work are much more difficult than usual. Imagine if every school was still open for business and that the school traffic was as bad as it is on a normal day. As it is, we are just about coping because many people are staying at home. This suggests that we have a long term infrastructure problem that means that our transport system can barely cope at the best of times, and that whenever there is some kind of disruption, be it weather or road works or traffic accidents, the creaky system grinds to a halt.

All schools are different. Some have small catchment areas, while for others children ordinarily have to travel for up to an hour each way to get there. The distances teachers travel also vary and many teachers routinely travel for more than an hour, in good travelling conditions, to get to their place of work. I question whether it is good use of resources to oblige teachers and pupils to travel backwards and forwards at the moment. Yesterday there was standing room only on my bus, and that was without any schoolchildren on board. My view is that children should be allowed to have a few more days of freedom and allow essential workers to have priority on transport systems.

Of course, some A-level students have modular exams starting on Monday, so it would make sense to give them priority and allow all the younger ones to stay at home. But I have a vested interest here, as I will be marking one of those A-level modules and will not get paid much if most of the candidates are absent.

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