Closing schools sends out 'wrong message'

Press Association,Alison Kershaw
Tuesday 03 February 2009 13:14

Closing schools because of snow is teaching children a bad lesson, a parents' group warned today.

Margaret Morrissey, of the Parents Outloud campaign group, said it sent out the message that if life gets difficult you should simply stay at home.

She called for an "emergency plan" to be introduced to allow more schools to stay open in the event of bad weather.

Her comments come as thousands of schools across the country announced that they would be closing their doors for the second day running.

Mrs Morrissey said: "We are giving children the message that when things get difficult you should just stay at home and have fun.

"Then, when they keep taking sick days from work when they grow up we wonder why."

She said the continuing closures would be extremely difficult for parents who would have to balance work with childcare.

"Parents are stuck between a rock and a hard place. It's great fun for children to be able to stay at home and play in the snow, there's great excitement, especially since it happens so rarely.

"But it is terribly difficult for parents, that, come whenever it may be, you've got to go to work and you've got the added problem of what to do with the children."

Mrs Morrissey added: "The problems schools have are exacerbated by the government bringing in thousands of health and safety laws, some are very important, but others are not.

"Schools have to have the right ratio of pupils to teachers to be able to open.

"In my day all the children sat in the hall and you had the headteacher and one or two others reading to the children, doing quizzes, all those kinds of things.

"It was great fun, you were at school, you did get to go in the playground, you did get to play in the snow, we were taught things like not to make snow balls out of ice, all the things you have to learn as you grow up."

Mrs Morrissey said that there should be a better solution for schools than simply having to close.

"We shouldn't say let's just close down and make it a new bank holiday," she said.

It has already been announced that all schools in Bradford, Birmingham and Surrey will be closed today, along with more than 100 in Kent.

Some schools in the county which were closed yesterday said they were hoping to re-open again later this morning.

The Schools Secretary Ed Balls dismissed as "nonsense" the claim schools had been forced to close because of health and safety laws.

"It is important that our kids are safe in schools but the idea that our schools are closing because of health and safety legislation is nonsense," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

"They were closed because teachers could not get into schools to open the schools and it was going to be really dangerous for some children trying to make the journeys when there weren't buses or Tubes or trains available and it was very hard to drive.

"If people are using this as an excuse, I say to them: it is complete nonsense that you would close the school because of legislation.

"The reason why schools are closed is that judgments are made by responsible people, the headteacher and the governors, about what is safe and, rightly in my view, many schools judged on Monday morning that it was not safe to open."

He denied Mrs Morrissey's suggestions there was a set staff to pupil ratio.

"There isn't a ratio: this is a matter for individual heads to decide in consultation with their governing bodies and local authorities."

Any inconvenience to parents was "really regrettable", he said.

"I have a huge amount of understanding for those parents for whom life has been difficult but in the end, these decisions are made by the heads of our local authorities, they have to make the right decision often in difficult circumstances, and I think they have been doing it right.

"Today in London it is quite sunny and you look out and think 'why is the school closed?'. But last night when the weather forecast was for more very heavy snow, in order to give parents certainty, decisions were made by many local authorities and schools to say they would have to keep the school closed for a second day.

"There is always a balance to be struck and in retrospect maybe the schools could have opened but I think many parents wanted to plan their arrangements for today will have been pleased to have had certainty yesterday."

Chief executive of Bradford Council, Tony Reeves, said the decision to close the city's schools was taken on Monday because of the "very severe weather forecast".

He said: "This decision has not been taken lightly, but it is in the best interests of both children and parents to ensure their safety and to allow parents to make child care arrangements, including informing their employers where necessary. It is schools being closed at short notice which causes most disruption to residents and the economy."

Closures also continue today across the capital.

More than 40 schools are closed in Camden, north London, but some that were closed yesterday are planning to re-open.

In Westminster, parents were advised to keep their children at home to avoid weather conditions "likely to severely hamper safe travel for pupils and teachers".

In Lambeth, south London, 23 schools were either closed or "almost certain to close".

More than 400 primary and secondary schools in Essex are closed again today.

A spokesman for Essex county council said schools had been asked to inform their local radio stations as a priority if they decided to close.

More than 15 schools in Cornwall have confirmed they would be closed today along with 40 in Devon.

More than 30 schools were shut in Bristol and a total of 60 schools in Gloucestershire were confirmed as closed or part-closed.

In Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, dozens of schools were also shut for the day, and in Berkshire several schools were closed.

Thousands of children were kept at home in Wales after hundreds of schools closed.

More than 500 did not open their doors this morning because of snow.

They included 110 in Carmarthenshire, 106 in Swansea, 71 in Caerphilly, 66 in Powys, 63 in Pembrokeshire, and 27 in Cardiff. Other schools were reviewing the situation.

Ceredigion County Council, in west Wales, said 72 schools were closed for the day, leaving two secondary schools and one primary school open.

All council-run schools in Dudley were closed today, along with the vast majority in neighbouring Walsall where just 17 of 120 schools opened their doors to pupils.

In Wolverhampton, 91 schools were shut and in Sandwell - which takes in the towns of Oldbury, Rowley Regis, Smethwick, Tipton, Wednesbury and West Bromwich - 95 were closed.

A Shropshire County Council spokeswoman said pupils from 47 of the county's 164 schools had been told to stay at home.

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