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Snow Days

January 6, 2010

I’ve had very few “snow days”, i.e. days where my school was shut because it was snowing, in my career. Mainly this has been due to bad luck or working for the kind of headteacher who, in the absence of any other kind of notable achievement, hoped to become respected for their ability to keep a school open.

Two experiences spring to mind though:

The Snow Day at Stafford Grove School

As usual I came into school early, the roads had been gritted and public transport was working in the immediate vicinity of the school but the school was covered in heavy snow and staff who lived further away, where the roads hadn’t been gritted, were likely to have trouble coming in. I got some work done in the department office, but started getting phone calls from other members of the department trying to find out if the school would be open so I went over to reception.

When I got there Maureen, the Deputy Head was sat there in the receptionist’s seat. She asked me to help take phone calls from staff and parents. She explained that if parents called we had to tell them that the decision had not been made yet whether the school would be closed or not.

So for half an hour I sat there, telling parents that until they heard differently the school would be opening and recommending they listen to local radio, just in case “anything changes”. I didn’t mention that the thing that might change would be the arrival of a member of staff able to make a decision. According to Maureen, the head couldn’t be contacted, nor could Claire the other, more competent, deputy head. Maureen didn’t feel she could make the decision herself (she had only worked at the school since the year I was born and, therefore, wasn’t experienced enough to make that sort of judgement) and until she was absolutely certain that hardly any staff could make it in, the school should remain open. As we sat there it became abundantly clear that every other school in the city was closing, even some of the schools with a reputation for staying open. The ice on the roads was dangerous and also the sheer depth of snow was so high that it was actually quite inconvenient to move around the site.

I eventually got away from the phones as other teaching staff arrived and somebody else got roped in; if the school was going to be open then I did have lessons to prepare. Another twenty minutes passed. Almost all the teachers were in, but a lot had struggled to make it due to icy roads. Students began to appear in the corridors, athough only in small numbers. Then the announcement went out: “the school would be closing to students”.

Members of staff who had struggled to get in went through the relief at having a day off, followed by the annoyance of realising that they had gone to a lot of effort for no reason other than the inability of the school to make a decision. Rumours went round as to what had happened. Maureen was believed to have been so bad at making decisions that she’d even been phoning retired members of SMT for advice. It was also believed that eventually Claire, the other Deputy Head had turned up, looked around at the state of the school, and said “Of course, we’re closing it”.

Still, now we were all in we could catch up on some work then leave, hopefully after the roads had been gritted. Then the message went round. The school building would be closing in twenty minutes everybody out. Staff who had already regretted coming in because the roads had been so hazardous were forced back out onto the same roads.

The following day the school opened, still under a blanket of snow, and despite lots of other schools being closed. Attendance was about 50% and some statistical jiggery-pokery had to be done to the registers to avoid admitting this to the powers that be.

The Snow Day At Mallon Park School (the most successful school I have ever worked in)

It started to snow during the previous day. Some other schools had sent students home, but as most of ours lived locally, and they had all made it in there seemed little to be gained by this. However, meetings were cut short and staff made it off site early. About an hour after the students had left the headteacher started asking people how they were going to make it home. When she discovered that I was taking public transport she offered me a lift, although she did warn me that she might have to stop along the way if she saw any students from the school misbehaving on the way.

In the car she quizzed me on how I would get into work the following day. When she realised that I left home long before any closure would be announced, she tried to make me promise not to leave my house until it was known for certain the school would be open, telling me that she did not mind if I was late. (To be fair, I evaded making this commitment as I hadn’t prepared properly for the following day, and would much rather risk having a pointless journey than risk teaching lessons without my resources to hand.)

The following day the decision was made early, and I was informed by text message in plenty of time.

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19 comments

  1. The secong school sounds like where I am. Systems successful, everyone informed early, clear communication and decision-making. The school tries to stay open (and usually manages it),but is not silly about it. In the past few days the most impressive aspect has been the kids maturity and common sense in following site rules designed for their safety. I’m proud to be part of the schhol, staff and associated with those young people.


  2. Stafford Grove R Us today and for the same reason.


  3. I’ve had a snow day although my school wasn’t closed. I live 35 miles away, and although I tried to get in, I gave up after travelling about 10 miles in a hour and came home (which took another hour). When I spoke to someone in school at about 7.40, she told me there was no snow there, but there was no problem about my not going in – it was nice not to be made to feel guilty and to be told that I had to put my own safety first.


  4. Here in Japan, all schools, both public and private, and from kindergarten to univesity, follow the same policy, more or less. It is based on the National Weather Centre’s announcements. The Weather Centre’s announcements are by prefecture (roughly equivalent to British counties), and are announced in all the major media – newspapers, TV, Internet. A recorded announcement can also be heard by phoning a local telephone number.

    Weather warnings exist for heavy snow, heavy rain (and flooding), and high winds (e.g. typhoons). A “warning” means it is dangerous to travel. (There is a prior, lower level, which is purely advisory).

    Here, for example, are the rules for my university:

    If a weather warning is in effect in the northern part of the prefecture (where the uni is located) at 7 a.m., morning classes are cancelled.
    If the weather warning is still in effect, or comes into effect, at 11 a.m., afternoon classes are cancelled.

    Nobody has to phone anyone. Nobody has to decide anything. The rules are in place and kick in automatically. It’s all very boring, really.


  5. “…the school was covered in sheavy now” – and you’re a teacher?


    • Teachers, of course, being immune to typos?


      • Immune? No.

        Proof reading your own posts is perhaps a good idea though.

        My apologies if my remark came across as insensitive.


        • Insensitivity I can cope with, but that’s just plain rudeness, and, unfortunately, this seems to be normal behaviour when people inform me about typos or other errors.


          • No, its not rude. Rudeness would have involved swearing or belittling. I made an observation, a little bluntly I’ll grant you, and then apologised.
            By internet standards it’s pretty gentle.


          • Andrew,
            Unfortunately, some people have too much time on their hands.


  6. My school is shut and I am at home today, the fourth snow day of my career. All of these have been since February 2009.


  7. It is obligatory for people of my age to now say something starting with ‘Of course , back in 1963, we had snow up to…..’

    But it is not obligatory for anybody to be interested in just how much snow there was in ’63.

    I wonder how children ever get any education in the winters in Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin?


    • I would think that areas where heavy snowfall in winter is common have plans and equipment ready to deal with it, such as a local council garage full of snowploughs. Surely ‘snow days’ are more likely in areas where heavy snow is unusual and thus people in the area are not well equipped to compensate for it?


  8. Our school had a telephone tree system and all the staff were let know we were’nt opening by half 7. Unfortunately no-one remembered to tell the supply teacher in Year 2 and she turned up to find the school closed. A wasted journey AND no pay for that day. Nice.


  9. Mr Carr, councils in other places allocate far more of their council tax or equivalent to snow clearance because it happens with the same extremity every year. This is a relatively rare event here and resources are allocated accordingly. The temporary and occasional inconvenience gives rise to far less moaning than an increase in council tax for a reason that comes round once a decade would.


  10. So typical. And why is it that for most of us it’s the first school experience that rings bells. We only had one snow day last week (much to my chagrin), but at least it was handle with some semblance of order; with many teachers being informed before they left the previous day that we should assume the school is closed unless we hear otherwise – this made for a whopping great lie in.


  11. During the winter in Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin they have snow equiptment, cars and school buses better equipped for snow. They also have make up days for exessive snow during summer months. Schools also close if the temperature is too low or are delayed 1 or 2 hours for the safety of children waiting at the bus stop. There are also school closings in large cities for air pollution, etc.


  12. Then why didnt you stay at Mallon??


    • What makes you think I didn’t?



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