E Jane Dickson: The wrong lesson from the big freeze

It's not teachers who were short of grit this week - it was the roads

Share
Related Topics

Snow joke: like thousands of parents across Britain, I have been scanning the skies with some nervousness this week. My son and daughter, rosy cheeked with sledging, are praying for the snow – and the school closures – to continue. Scrooge-like, as clamouring work commitments drown out the happy cries of children, I'm praying for slush.

Monday, if I'm truthful, was fun. We trudged up to my son's primary school in our wellies to find a cheery teacher juggling snowballs at the school gate and announcing an unscheduled holiday. School staff who had managed to walk to work – and an impressive number had left home at dawn to do so – joined with parents and children in the neighbouring park for a snow fight. It was a terrific community event. On Tuesday, my son's school, following a well thought out contingency procedure, was open for business – one of only two primary schools in the London borough of Camden. My daughter's secondary school, in neighbouring Westminster – where weather conditions were scarcely more severe – remained closed. Faced with these unregulated, seemingly random policies from schools and local authorities, there is only so much hot chocolate and bonhomie a working mother can dispense.

At a time when people are worried enough about keeping their jobs, the cost of school closure is immense. Parents unable to secure emergency childcare have no choice but to stay off work themselves. This translates all too quickly into orders unfulfilled and contracts prejudiced. The Federation of Small Businesses reckons that by the end of the week our flailing economy will have suffered losses worth some £3.5bn.

It's natural to look for the weak link in this chain of disaster and, not unusually, it's teachers who are getting it in the neck. Parenting websites abound with childhood memories of plucky infants, battling their way, Captain Oates style, to school in the Big Snow of the 1960s and '70s and angry demands have been made for school staff to show grit and set an example. According to Margaret Morrissey of the Parents Outloud campaign group, "We are giving children the message that when things get difficult you should stay at home and have fun. Then, when they keep taking sick days from work when they grow up, we wonder why."

I dare say I could have kept my pair indoors on Monday , reciting times tables instead of hurtling downhill on an offcut of laminate flooring, but it's not the effect on their characters I'm most concerned about. And it seems unfair to impose our comfortable schoolroom nostalgia on a profession facing peculiar contemporary challenges. Back in the 1960s, local schools were largely staffed by local teachers. Today particularly in cities where property prices long ago outstripped the wages of public sector workers, teachers are frequently travelling vast distances to get to school.

If the transport system grinds to a halt, as it has across Britain this week, there's not a whole lot teachers, or dinner ladies, or cleaners, or any other workers on whom the smooth running of our schools depend, can do about it.

Put bluntly, as I hope it will be put to Boris Johnson and any other blustering apologist for public services casting around for someone to blame, it's not the teachers who were short of grit this week, it was the roads. For the want of some sand, £3.5 bn was lost. There are lessons, it is said, that cannot be learned at school. Given the weather forecast, I call that fortunate.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Our media are suffering a new experience: not fear of being called anti-Semitic'  

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices