Letters: School snow closures

Why schools so often have to close when it snows
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The Independent Online

Your article "Every lesson is important but so is every limb" (7 January) oversimplifies things regarding school closures in snowy conditions.

Because of the location of most schools, nestled within local communities and not in the centre of towns and cities, and because most teachers tend not to live within those communities (I wouldn't want to bump into a dozen or more of my pupils or their families every time I go to the shops), our commuting routes tend to be more convoluted and off the beaten (and gritted) track.

For most places of work, if employees are a little late or turn up in dribs and drabs then it is, at worst, an inconvenience. However, for a school with hundreds of pupils it is far more serious, not least with regard to those dreaded words, "health and safety". Furthermore, in many schools, because of the excitable nature of children in the snow, the quality of learning can be seriously compromised; though I accept that this has a lot to do with the culture of the school.

Because of the Government's obsession with recording and reporting on every measurable aspect of a school's life, head teachers have to consider attendance figures and targets. At a school where I have taught I know that on at least one occasion a major consideration in closing the school by morning break was that so few pupils were present (the vast majority of staff had made it in). The school was in danger of missing its attendance target; two days of such low pupil attendance could have caused the school to miss the target, with all the negative publicity and Ofsted interference that would ensue.

Andrew Elliot

Glossop, Derbyshire

I was astonished that you did not mention carrying a shovel when driving in snowy conditions ("How to drive – and survive – in the snow", 7 January). Such a simple implement has got me out of a number of difficult situations, and the fact of just having one removes some of the anxiety of driving into snow.

Ian Turnbull


Gutless plot to oust Brown

Gordon Brown may not be the most slick, photogenic or universally liked of people, but when we look at the two who came out of the woodwork to oust him, in this critical pre-election run-in; well, what can you say?

Gordon Brown was shooed into his job with no opposition because the Blairites never had the guts to put up against him for a proper contest on policies. They have only themselves to blame for their dissatisfaction.

John Pinkerton

Milton Keynes

If I were Gordon Brown I would not worry too much about being attacked by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt. After all, every family has its dead sheep.

Colin V Smith

St Helens, Merseyside

It just goes to show how out of touch politicians and journalists are. Two has-been ex-cabinet ministers choose to start a leadership challenge in the middle of the worst winter weather the country has seen for decades, and the media pounce upon it at once and examine it upside down and inside out, to exhaustion.

I don't know if anyone within the circle of the M25 has noticed, but most of the rest of the country is far too busy at present either trying to dig itself out of the snow, or worrying about whether elderly relatives will have enough food and power to see them through this weather.

And those that are not taken up with that are bothered about whether they can get to work and continue to run essential public services or keep businesses from going down the tubes.

Russell Pearce

Hahywards Heath, West Sussex

Why does calling for a vote constitute a "plot", but hanging on to power while resisting a vote – even resisting an election – doesn't?

Arthur Lindley

Wootton Wawen, West Midlands

In 1870 a tall woman, dressed in black, face hidden by a veil, turns up at the funeral of an Australian Robin Hood known as Captain Thunderbolt ("The gentleman robber who mourned at his own funeral", 7 January). Apparently this mysterious person's true identity might well have been none other than Captain Thunderbolt himself.

Who could have imagined that this story should break on the very day that a tall Australian-born woman (Patricia Hewitt) showed up at the fake funeral of Britain's own self-proclaimed Captain Thunderbolt?

Ivor Morgan


Charity nothing to do with ministers

Your report (24 December) that "a Tory government would hold immediate talks with the Charity Commission to persuade it to soften its line on reviewing public schools' charitable status" raises fundamental issues concerning the independence of the Charity Commission.

Charitable status is not determined by government policy and that charity law should remain separate from government is vital. Parliament recognised this in setting a modern statutory framework in the Charities Act 2006. This retains the common law basis under which charitable status is determined by application of court judgments to modern circumstances.

The Commission has to base its guidance concerning charitable purposes on the common law inheritance, not on the policies of the government of the day. In drafting its guidance, the Commission has gone to great lengths to invite comments from all with an interest.

In building on often old and limited court judgments (as in the case of fee-charging charities), the Commission's interpretation of the law may well be open to disagreement. But it is not for government to challenge it. That is what appeal to the Tribunal and the courts is for. Far from legal action being a threat, it is to be hoped that the Supreme Court has an opportunity sooner rather than later to give guidance on charitable status in the modern world.

Parliament also inserted into the 2006 Act a provision that "the Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any minister". Your report suggests that Parliament should go further when the Act comes up for review in a couple of years and give the Commission a proper independent status.

Richard Fries

London SW11

The writer was Chief Charity Commissioner 1992-99

Terror-stricken by a farcical bomber

Am I the only one who finds the "underpants bomber" story somewhat ludicrous, in the fine tradition of Monty Python or Viz comic?

I don't mean to play down the very real threat of extremist terrorism, but the fact that the perpetrator of this pathetic attempt to bring down an airliner utterly failed in his quest should have a bearing on our politicians' reactions to it. After all, it is they who are constantly extolling a "proportianate response". I am therefore puzzled to hear world leaders angrily pronouncing that more should have been done by security forces to stop this atrocity, as nothing actually happened.

Such over-reactions are increasingly used as a smoke screen to excuse more and more draconian erosions of the ordinary person's right to dignified and free passage in their day-to-day business around the world.

Yes, the intended actions of Abdulmutallab were despicable, but have we in the West become so enfeebled and terror-stricken that we can't see this for what it was – a pathetic and hopeless debacle? Get a grip, please.

Gary Chapman

London W9

Hypocrisy over Chinese execution

Like any right-minded person, I am appalled by the death sentence on Akmal Shaikh, or anyone else, perhaps more so as I live in China. But I detect quite a lot of cant in the protests; many of the people apparently outraged by China would happily restore capital punishment in Britain.

I don't recall many high-profile protests being made about the execution of Saddam Hussein, who was probably "bi-polar". Bi-polar, it seems, is the new Black Dog, thanks to Stephen Fry, and can be used to justify a multitude of sins even in people who are "undiagnosed".

I recall also that when Britain was at a similar stage to China socio-economically, we managed to hang the mentally sub-normal Derek Bentley and Timothy Evans for crimes committed by other people. Hopefully, the Chinese authorities in time will come to recognise the inhumanity of their actions.

Mike Shearing

Duyun, Ghuizhou, China

Ignore repression? We do, all the time

Richard Dalton, Britain's former ambassador to Iran, (report, 30 December) says, "We cannot ignore repression". Really? We ignore it every day when it is perpetrated by our allies; from Israel's siege of Gaza to the use of torture by Egypt and Pakistan, to the creation of concentration camps for Tamil refugees in Sri Lanka.

And equally pertinent, Iranians still remember the support our Foreign Office gave to the Shah over 30 years ago when hundreds of demonstrators were mowed down by his security forces. Nor was there any talk of human rights when the Shah's secret police literally roasted their opponents alive.

Verbal support for the opponents of Ahmedinejad and Khameini is a gift to the present regime which can, quite justifiably, point to Britain's hypocrisy and selectivity. The threat of sanctions and military action over nuclear reprocessing is a threat to all Iranians, not just the regime, and is in stark contrast to Britain's de facto approval of Israeli nuclear weapons.

At a time when David Miliband is promising to secure immunity from private prosecutions for Israelis facing war crime charges – that is, those accused of massacring 1,400 Gazans a year ago – the best thing for him and Britain's foreign policy establishment to do, if they genuinely support those on the streets of Tehran, is to take a vow of silence.

Tony Greenstein

Brighton, East Sussex

Get married and stay together

While I'm pleased that Amy Jenkins (24 December) thinks my relationship courses for new mothers are a great idea, her statements about marriage research rather discredit the rest of her article.

My own research using the Millennium Cohort Study of 15,000 new mothers is the largest and most up-to-date analysis of family stability and breakdown in the UK. Far from it being impossible to separate out marriage, it is the case that being married or not is the number one predictor of whether couples stay together or not during the early years of parenthood, above and beyond the effects of age, education, income, ethnic group, birth order and benefit receipt.

It is also disingenuous to talk about long-term cohabiting relationships as if they are the norm. According to the census, just 3 per cent of intact couples with dependent 15-year-old children are cohabiting. Almost all long-term stable relationships involve marriage.

Harry Benson

Bristol Community Family Trust


Unelected premiers

So George Canning was the last PM never to face an election (report, 7 January) was he? If Neville Chamberlain won an election between 1937 and 1940 then news of it doesn't seem to have leaked out.

Christopher Anton


Parents who sue

Colin Bower blames health and safety zealots for not allowing children on to the promenade when the Eastbourne Silver Band gives its free concert (letter, 6 January). But it is the parents of such children who are really to blame – the litigious parents who wouldn't hesitate to sue if Jack or Amy cut their finger or grazed their knee.

Nigel Fox

Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

Power to the people

I see that Lord Mandelson is warning that the working class cannot be depended on to give the Labour Party power. Isn't this a reversal of the normal way of things, in which the working class has been constantly disappointed by Labour's failure to give them power? I hope his lordship appreciates the irony.

Steve Mainwaring


Town on the move

I was extremely disappointed in Simon Carr's sketch (6 January), in which he compared Burnley to the difficulties of Yemen, its tribal rebellion in the north, secessionists in the south, a collapsing economy and al-Qa'ida everywhere. A tremendous amount of work, a new FE college delivering university courses and a growing international respect for the manner in which faith and race issues are dealt with speak of a town tackling serious issues and moving forward.

John W Goddard

Bishop of Burnley

Soaring profits

If the chief executive of the Office of Fair Trading describes the profitable Ryanair as "puerile" (front page, 4 January), how does he describe the struggling British Airways: sophisticated?

Charles Bidwell