As Britain enters another what may well be yet another week of snowy weather, the question of whether schools should have been shut or not has proved a hot topic.
Some 27 schools in Harrow were closed last week, although all should have reopened today. Meanwhile, with many pupils due to sit GCSE and A Level exams today and over the next week or so, some secondary schools were running on limited timetables.
The debate has split people into two camps; on one side the health and safety brigade, on the other those who point out that if other professionals have to get to work, why shouldn’t teachers? Added to this is the problem for business when parents suddenly find themselves at a loss for childcare because the school has closed its doors for the day.
On Saturday, the headteacher of John Lyon School, Katherine Haynes, wrote a letter in The Times explaining her decision to call a snow day at the Harrow on the Hill school:
Sir, I run a medium-size boys’ secondary school and have twice this week decided that it could not open because of the snow. In fact, Harrow on the Hill could easily have been mistaken for an Alpine ski village. On the one hand headteachers hear severe weather warnings saying that people should not venture from their homes. On the other hand we hear that school closures unfairly prevent parents from going to work.
No decision to close a school is taken lightly. The safety of pupils is of paramount importance: their getting to and from school, as well as during their day with us. On Thursday my maintenance team and ground staff cleared the school site of snow with a tractor. It took several hours to make the school safely operational. We are fortunate enough to have a number of teachers who are within sensible walking distance, so in the event of further severe bad weather we could operate, just, for the January A-level examinations if necessary.
All heads make their own wise judgment about closure based on their school’s circumstances — regardless of what the weathermen or politicians tell us.
But today, a former pupil said that in the good old days, a bit of snowfall wouldn’t have caused such a fuss:
Sir, It was interesting to read the letter (Jan 9) from Katherine Haynes, head of The John Lyon School at Harrow, regarding her need to close the school twice last week because of the snow. How times have changed.
I was a pupil at The John Lyon School from 1936 to 1942. Three of those years were war years and, although Harrow did not suffer severe bombing, there was considerable damage and very frequent air raid warnings. We had, too, some very severe winters.
Despite the problems, the school closed on only one occasion during those years, and that was on the day that King George V died early in 1936 when at morning assembly the boys were told that, as a mark of respect, the school would be closed for the remainder of the day.
If buses and trains were delayed by bad weather, boys walked miles to get to school. The highlight of wintry conditions was the long ice slide that would be developed across the playground, with a queue of boys waiting to take their turn to run at the slide and wear out their shoes.
It seems that back in the day, Harrow was a lot more resilient.
With yet more warnings of grit shortages in the area, the ‘close the schools’ brigade are surely not worrying for nothing. But have the council and the schools been exaggerating ‘apline weather’?
If the snow comes down this week, will the schools be right to close? Should pupils just wap up warm and brave the elements? Is it fair on those taking exams to miss out on their classes?
What do you think?