As a child I loved snow, but as a Headteacher I could do without it.
Headteachers know that bad weather creates a Catch 22 ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t scenario’. Schools closing in the event of snowfall can be criticised for creating childcare crises as parents have to take time off work at short notice. I understand that both as a Headteacher and as a Dad. Keep schools open, however, and there are different challenges. If colleagues cannot get to Fir Vale, teacher – pupil ratios may fall below legal minimums. Journeys to and from school, in changeable conditions and to a site still covered in ice means – when you are responsible for the welfare of pupils and colleagues - you must be risk averse: the downside risks of staying open can be greater than the downside risks of closing.
Nevertheless, snow and ice can teach us all something about resilience. Attitudes to bad weather, like attitudes to many things are shaped in early childhood. My parents were always clear on the value of education and the idea of preparing me for the world of work. My Mum in particular took the view that the school holidays were long enough already, and in term time I went to school come what may. Given my background, it is not surprising that I am from the “open if at all possible” school of headship. I want to do all I reasonably can to protect pupil learning time, spare working parents childcare crises and also to protect and promote the health, welfare and safety of pupils and colleagues. The premise remains: Fir Vale can be open only if it is safe to do so. Yesterday (28/2/18) was a good case where there was no reason to close any earlier than we did: when I arrived at school there was snow and some ice but Fir Vale could be open because it was safe. Conditions changed very quickly and my decision needed to change in response.
The costs of closing any school are considerable whether measured in lost learning time, the impact on the local economy as parents leave work to look after children, the disruption to schedules and events and potentially the damage to the reputation of our school. As your Headteacher, I will always try my best to keep Fir Vale open and to make any decision to close as early and as swiftly as possible. Today the decision was made having spoken with site staff and other Headteachers from 4:30am. Colleagues and parents were informed just before 5:30am to minimise any uncertainty.
I’m confident even my Mum would have agreed with the decision to close Fir Vale today and that, for me, is another valuable acid test.