Questions raised over school snow closures

Blacklands school was the only school in Hastings that opened on Monday after the weekend's snow.'Head teacher of Blacklands School, Alison Baines, pictured with a few pupils from the school. 24/1/13
Blacklands school was the only school in Hastings that opened on Monday after the weekend's snow.'Head teacher of Blacklands School, Alison Baines, pictured with a few pupils from the school. 24/1/13

QUESTIONS have been asked about our school’s ability to cope with snow after most closed early last Friday and remained shut on Monday.

As the first snowflakes fell around 10.40am on Friday, headteachers were already making decisions about closing ahead of snow predicted at no more than a few centimetres.

This left many parents having to make arrangements to collect their children at very short notice, in one case just 20 minutes before closure.

And despite most main roads in and around Hastings staying clear throughout the weekend, only six schools in the borough opened.

Blacklands Primary School in Osborne Close, Blacklands was the only school to open all day with teachers and pupils attending as normal.

Sacred Heart RC Primary, All Saints C of E Primary, Helenswood School and Williams Parker School all opened later on Monday morning to allow snow and ice to be cleared.

The Observer contacted the headteachers of all schools in the borough asking them why they decided to close.

Only St Leonards Academy, Hastings Acadmemy and Blacklands Primary responded. All three stayed open on Friday.

Jenny Jones, principal of the 1,300 pupil St Leonards Academy, decided to close after 20 teachers phoned in to say they could not get in from places like Eastbourne and mid Sussex.

Yet many of the teachers who work at Blacklands Primary School lived in the same areas and managed to make it to Hastings in time.

Mrs Jones said: “Our estate managers came in on Sunday afternoon and made an assessment.

“We felt we couldn’t get the paths and side roads cleared in time at our two large campus sites.

“We know many pupils can walk in. But I’ve got 20 teachers who live in the Eastbourne area and beyond and they said they could find it extremely difficult to get in as they weren’t on a main route.

“I would rather close than be down by 20 staff.

“We made a decision early on Sunday but still had a year 11 GCSE geography exam as normal using staff who lived locally.

“We don’t make the decision lightly. We are living in a much more risk averse society.”

However at Blacklands, one of the governors was on site at 7am clearing the main path.

School head Allison Baines said: “I live just two miles from the school so I walked in on Sunday as a test.

“I had not problems and thought it would be reasonable for everyone to come in.

“I got up at 5.45am on Monday and was in nice and early.

“I have teachers from Tunbridge Wells and Eastbourne and they were all in for 8.45am. I could see it was the snow was thawing duiring Monday. We have designated areas for the children to play in the snow.

“If we close parents don’t go to work and lose pay. Hospital, police and fire brigades don’t stop for a bit of snow. We rarely close and I am surprised that the other schools did.”

Theresa Phillips, headteacher of the 730 pupil Hastings Academy, said: “There had been quite a significant deposit of snow on Friday but I decided to stay and it proved the right decision.

“There was a risk assessment on the site at the weekend and we decided to close.

“There was too much snow and ice around on site. You could not see the steps here.

“A snowfall here seems to have an effect on people here - if we lived in the Scottish borders there might be some resilience. But it’s a dilemma that we didn’t want.”

Colin Jenner, a parent of a pupil at Silverdale School, said: “I subscribe to the county councils alerts to notify me when Silverdale School will be closing in an emergency.

“I received 20 minutes notice that my eight-year-old daughter would be finishing school early on Friday

only two hours before normal finishing time.

“I can’t believe the situation merited the amount of chaos caused by that.

“It’s lucky that I work near enough to home to be able to race there in time, many others will have been put in a very difficult situation by such short notice.”

Michael Pyke, spokesman for the Campaign for State Education, said: “The headteachers have a very difficult decision to make but the bottom line is that schools should stay open where they really can.”

Hastings MP, Amber Rudd, said: “It is disappointing that so many closed on Monday.

“This makes it difficult for parents trying to work let alone the cost of the lost education for the children. “We must put children’s safety first but I would urge all local schools to do their absolute best to open despite the snow and cold weather. Helenswood managed to open for part of the day for the A Level exams, so particular congratulations to them for making sure that their pupils didn’t lose out because of the weather.”