Schools stay shut but roads, shops and offices stay open


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The Independent Online

Parents have accused headteachers of failing to stand up to the snow, as hundreds of schools remained closed because of the bad weather.

Tens of thousands of children were forced to spend another day at home as fresh snow fell across the UK. Although the number of closed schools was sharply down on the 5,000 estimated to have shut at the start of the week, there was growing anger from parents forced to take time off work.

Many queried why so many schools in urban areas with good transport links have shut down when hospitals, offices and shops remain open.

One contributor to the Mumsnet site wrote: “Nurseries didn’t close. Workplaces didn’t close. Only all the local schools. I can only quote the local pre-school head when I dropped my child off: ‘Good excuse for a day off, if you can get it.’”

Another parent added: “In our area the snow really has not been bad. The roads are clear. As far as I could see, not one shop, restaurant or business was closed. But the majority of schools still took the decision to close.”

Phil Karnavas, principal of the Canterbury Academy in Kent, which has stayed open all week, said that headteachers risked giving off the impression that they were “looking for reasons” to close their schools.

He said: “We are a public service and, thus, we should serve the public. If schools close it means children are at home. If children are at home it means some parents cannot go to work. This means that they could lose money. Parents should not be inconvenienced unless there really is no option.”

But headteachers’ leaders defended their decisions to close. A spokeswoman for the National Association of Head Teachers said: “It is not that headteachers are unusually risk averse but they do have to make decisions on behalf of hundreds of children and their families. If just one child was maimed or killed by a car as it slipped on the ice around a school entrance/exit, there would – quite rightly – be questions raised.

“Do headteachers err on the side of caution more than they would if it were just their own safety to consider? Of course they do. But most of us would not have it any other way. Do schools close more often than they used to? Perhaps, but this probably reflects changes in the workplace where fewer and fewer people work within walking distance of their place of work.”

Justine Roberts, founder of the website Mumsnet, said that what angered parents most was schools being closed at very short notice.

She said: “The one thing schools could do better in some cases is to communicate more. The most stressful thing is having to make desperate last-minute childcare plans.