The Headteacher's Blog
Welcome to Lydgate Junior School.
We aim to ensure that all children receive a high quality, enjoyable and exciting education.
We feel that our school is a true reflection of the community we serve. Lydgate children are well motivated and come from a range of social and cultural backgrounds. Within the school community we appreciate the richness of experience that the children bring to school. This enhances the learning experiences of everyone and it also gives all pupils the opportunity to develop respect and tolerance for each other by working and playing together. We want your child's time at Lydgate to be memorable for the right reasons - that is, a happy, fulfilling and successful period of his/her childhood.
Welcome to Year 3!
The Y3 teachers are Mrs Dutton & Mrs de Brouwer (3D/deB), Mrs Holden (3SH), Mrs Noble & Miss Roberts (3N/R) and Miss Wall (3AW). We have three Teaching Assistants who work within the team: Mrs Allen, Mrs Dawes and Mrs Proctor.
We will use this blog to keep you up-to-date with all the exciting things that we do in Year 3, share some of the things that the children learn and show you some of their fantastic work. We hope you enjoy reading it!
The Y3 team.
Welcome to the Year 5 Blog page.
The Year 5 teaching team includes our class teachers, Mrs Loosley (5NL), Mrs Rougvie and Mrs Jones (5RJ), Mrs Webb and Mrs Ridsdale (5WR) and Miss Cunningham (5EC). Many children are supported by Mrs Hill, Mr Swain and Ms Kania (the Year 5 Teaching Assistants) who work with children across the 4 classes. Our Year 5 teaching team aims to create a stimulating learning environment that is safe, happy, exciting and challenging, where each pupil is encouraged to achieve their full potential.
As a parent or carer, you play a massively important role in your child's development and we'd love to work closely with you. Please feel free to make an appointment to see us if you want to discuss your child's attitude to learning, their progress, attainment or anything else that might be on your mind. We'd also love to hear from you if you have any skills that we could use to make our Year 5 curriculum even more exciting. Are you an avid reader, a talented sportsman, a budding artist, a mad scientist or a natural mathematician? Would you be willing to listen to children read on a regular basis? If so, please contact your child’s class teacher. Similarly, if you have a good idea, a resource, a 'contact' or any other way of supporting our learning in year 5, please let us know.
We are working very hard to ensure your child has a successful year 5, please help us with this by ensuring your child completes and returns any homework they are given each week. If there are any issues regarding homework or your child finds a particular piece of homework challenging, then please do not hesitate to come and speak to us. In order to help improve your child’s reading skills, increase their vocabulary and develop their comprehension skills, we also ask that you listen to your child read and ask them questions to ensure they have understood what they have read.
We look forward to keeping you up to date on the exciting things that we do in year 5 through our year group blog.
The Year 5 Team
We are the children in Y6 at Lydgate Junior School. There are 120 of us and our teachers are: Mrs Shaw and Mrs Watkinson (Y6S/W), Mr Bradshaw (until Mrs Parker returns) in Y6AP), Mrs Phillips (Y6CP) and Miss Norris (Y6HN). Also teaching in Year 6 is Miss Lee (Monday - Y6AP, Tuesday - Y6HN and Wednesday - Y6S/W) and Mrs Grimsley (Tuesday -Y6CP).We are also very lucky to be helped by Mrs Ainsworth and Mrs Biggs. We use this space to share all of the great things that are happening in our classrooms. Join us each week on our learning journey....
Like many of you will have done, I stepped outside my front door yesterday evening to join the tribute to the entire NHS and social care staff team across the country. I blew a vuvuzela loud enough so my eldest son could hear it at his house two streets away! I clapped along with my next-door neighbours.
We, at school, are proud and humble at the same time, to be able to help in our own tiny way by offering essential child care for the real heroes - the critical workers.
We will be open over what was to be the Easter holiday. We have so many staff offering to be here that we could have a 3 to 1 adult to child ratio! We are happy to help in a small way a gigantic effort by the nation. We will be responsible by only having the necessary staffing level each day. All other colleagues are told to stay at home and limit social contacts.
What we must all do, the scientists and medics tell us, is to stay home, stay safe and save lives.
Dr Who, Jodie Whittaker, posted this message:
Easter is a time of hope. It is a message of triumph and overcoming the worst of times. It carries the important message that others are there for us, that love will overcome, and that God is eternal - this is not the end of things. (It's why we have not said 'goodbye' to the children - because we will see them again soon.)
Make a rainbow and send us a photo. Join in the annual Easter Egg Model Competition and send in an entry - see emails. Check out the weekly music and 'dance' video from school staff. Do a little of the learning activity we send out. But most importantly right now, stay home and stay safe. We will be together again soon.
As you will know the government has taken the decision to close schools from Friday 20th March. The government has published guidance about how schools will continue to support vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
The guidance makes clear that our priority, as a country, is to do everything that we can to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
If children can stay safely at home, they should, to limit the chance of the virus spreading.
That is why the government has asked parents to keep their children at home, wherever possible, and asked schools to remain open only for those children who absolutely need to attend.
It is important to underline that schools, colleges and other educational establishments remain safe places for children. But the fewer children making the journey to school, and the fewer children in educational settings, the lower the risk that the virus can spread and infect vulnerable individuals in wider society.
Schools are, therefore, being asked to continue to provide care for a limited number of children:
- children who are vulnerable
- children whose parents are critical to the Covid-19 response and cannot be safely cared for at home.
Vulnerable children include children who are supported by social care, those with safeguarding and welfare needs, including child in need plans, on child protection plans, ‘looked after’ children, young carers, disabled children and those with education, health and care (EHC) plans.
Parents who are critical to the Covid-19 Response
Parents whose work is critical to the COVID-19 response include those who work in health and social care and in other key sectors outlined below. If your work is critical to the COVID-19 response, or you work in a critical sector, and you cannot keep your child safe at home then your children will be prioritised for education provision.
Many parents working in these sectors may still be able to ensure their child is kept at home and every child who can be safely cared for at home should be.
Please, therefore, follow these key principles that the government has set out:
- If it is at all possible for children to be at home, then they should be.
- If a child needs specialist support, is vulnerable or has a parent who is a critical worker, then educational provision will be available for them.
- Parents should not rely for childcare upon those who are advised to be in the stringent social distancing category such as grandparents, friends, or family members with underlying conditions.
- Parents should also do everything they can to ensure children are not mixing socially in a way which can continue to spread the virus. They should observe the same social distancing principles as adults.
We anticipate that our Sheffield schools will be open to support the children and young people that need to come on Monday.
If arrangements need to change in the days and weeks that follow, for example because there are not enough school staff to remain open, your school will keep you informed.
I am proud that all Sheffield schools have made such magnificent efforts to support our children and young people during this difficult time. We will be continuing to provide for the children of the other critical workers of our country. It is an essential part of our national effort to combat this disease.
Please help this effort by following this guidance - if your child can be safely cared for at home then that is where they should be - not in school on Monday.
We do not open because we have an attitude of ‘we always open’. If circumstances made it unsafe for us to open then we wouldn’t. We open, then, because we can, and because we are safe to do so. By safe I mean that the school site and buildings are safe to enter and exit, are working well, are well-staffed and have the facilities necessary to open and remain open. Each time we open we reinforce the evidence that we can and should. We do not take risks in opening or with a decision to open. The site has been inspected and worked on. Water is running, toilets working, heating is on, paths are clear enough, emergency exits likewise, school meals are available, enough staff are present to supervise and teach.
The area around the school site (outside it, on the pavements and roads in the vicinity) are not within our control the same way, and are not our responsibility to clear. I could argue that, as parents haven’t handed over their children until the gate then it is their decision to make up until then. Indeed some exercise that ‘right’ and keep their children off school feeling / expressing the feeling that it is not safe to travel. However, like an organisation hosting a major public event, we do consider the local conditions. We inspect outside the school site, though near to it. We do not go to every street of every pupil. That surely is for the parent to decide – not safe to even step down your front path? Parents’ local knowledge and decision.
Around the issue of staffing we have an area of grey – until staff are here or have told us they won’t be able to make it we have the usual level of doubt. On a normal day, with ‘normal’ weather some staff arrive on-site just a moment before their shift starts. They are perfectly entitled to do this, and are never pressurised or ‘required’ to be here earlier than they are paid and directed to be working. On a ‘normal’ weather day I cannot say until that last vital colleague arrives whether we have a full complement and what our initial teaching arrangement needs to be. We assume, not having heard to the contrary, that colleagues are on their way in, and will therefore arrive. It makes no difference what the weather is – the staff arrival situation / question is the same. Should we require staff to phone in their updates and intentions just because of the weather? Perhaps so, but there is doubt on any day.
When pressed, if pressed, we could accommodate children in fewer but larger classes than normal if we had fewer teachers than planned but all the children. However, if ever we did have a day with not all our teachers here it is likely that we would also have fewer than all our pupils. We could probably put four classes into three or whatever with the three / two or whatever number of teachers.
We are supposed to open 190 days a year for pupils and that is our intention. By being open in adverse weather we demonstrate one key characteristic and one key definition.
We want children and organisations to be resilient. The school demonstrates resilience when it manages just fine with some bad weather. Colleagues do it in spades by being here, ready, prepared and well-equipped. We display a good model. By opening we help other organisations that rely on our parents (their staff) turning up for work. If we close and the parent has to stay home we damage other organisations and services, too. We potentially cut family income if the parent is not paid on a ‘snow day’.
The definition in question is ‘exceptional’. For me to authorise a Leave of Absence request there needs to exceptional circumstance behind the request. Not shutting because of adverse weather shows the level at which we mark ‘exceptional’. We can expect, in winter, in Sheffield, on the edge of the Peak District, and on top of one of the seven hills, for there to be some snow each year. It is, by its recurrence, simply not exceptional. We can expect it, and therefore prepare for it to some degree so as to lessen the impact.
Closing, because of adverse weather, is an option, but adverse weather is not actually a reason in itself. We would make a decision to close because it was not safe to open, or because reasonable steps could not be taken to make it safe to open. This is the same as during an official strike action, or invasion of a cloud of wasps, or if the boilers break down.
Opening later than usual is an option some schools and businesses take. They must have information that suggests that it would not be safe to open as usual but would be safe to open later. Perhaps they know enough staff will have arrived then, or the boiler will be fixed, or paths cleared.
Another school, a neighbour, opening at a different time does prompt questions from parents and for some makes the day harder. Why do we not coordinate? The answer is that we should – we should all open at our usual times. Secondary schools do not ask our opinion about their normal timings. We do not close early when a Secondary School closes early to allow for an early start to parent evenings, for example. The local Infant Schools do not ask or inform us if they are opening late. There is no established method for any school (other than, perhaps, in a Multi-Academy Trust) to inform another about not opening. If we can open on time why should another school force us to change our decision? I understand how this might help the parent or carers with children at two schools, but how does it help the parent with children only at one? Why should they be delayed in continuing with their day? Why should we not get on with teaching and learning if we can?
We do not know every factor that forces other schools into making different decisions to ours. Something as simple as how the wind circulates a building can impact, or whether the Caretaker lives on site. The angle of paths to entrances might mean they catch no sunlight in winter and are difficult to clear, or too many staff members cannot attend on time to provide proper cover. Their decisions are for them to make based on what they know and have to consider.
Each morning we blow a whistle at 08:35. This is the point in the day from which we are responsible for supervising children on site – ten minutes before the start of the school day. The doors are opened and children enter. The 10 minutes before the bell allows space and time in cloakrooms for 479 children to enter easily and comfortably. At 08:45 we ring the bell to indicate the start of the school day – it is when the register is taken. Obviously you cannot ‘take’ a register in no time at all and there will be a certain amount of time when the teacher has the register open on screen. Perhaps they should work in different orders each time they do the list; sQuid certainly allows this with ease. In practice if we do not have a cut-off time then we allow registers to stay open all morning – there has to be a point at which we say the register has been taken and a child is late thereafter. 08:45 is it: not in class then and you are late.
There are two official types of ‘late’, before and after the register closes. These terms or times are actually an administration definition and action. 'Closing the register', as a phrase, goes back to when it was an official, literal, action – the register book was closed shut. It then required an extra job to bring it back to the desk, open at the correct page and change a recorded mark. The teacher has the register open and starts it at 08:45. It is open as an electronic register until they have gone through all 30 children, to establish who is present and what their meal choice is for the day. At the point they ‘Save’ the register it is closed to them – they can make no further alterations. ‘Late before the register closes’ is the grey area / period between a teacher finishing their part of the job and the Office finishing theirs. The admin team have to check all registers are saved (electronically) and all children attending a before-school club, peripatetic instrument lesson or an intervention are marked in. At this point they ‘close’ the register. Children arriving after this point are ‘late after the register closed’. How long does it take to get to class, or to complete a register? I assume they are about the same period of time. A teacher starts the register at 08:45, and a child walks through the gate at the same time. By the time the child has walked to the correct cloakroom, taken off coat and bag, removed what they need from the bag, put the coat on a hook and bag under the bench, and perhaps gone for a wee, the register is done. The way to be on time is to be on site before the register starts i.e. between 08:35 and 08:45.
We send a text / email to parents of children who are late more than once in any week. It informs the parent that their child was late more than once in the last week. It does not threaten legal action or the intervention of the Attendance Service. It reminds parents about punctuality and when school starts. It alerts some parents that, though they sent their child off in good time to arrive before the start of the school day, their child was not here on time. Many parents find this very useful.
Whatever the weather may be, if we are open at the usual time, register is at 08:45 and arriving after that point is ‘late’. Adverse weather may be the reason, or its impact on transport more accurately, but the child is still ‘late’ arriving, just as a member of staff would be late if they arrived after their shift start time. We have to save registers for all sorts of reasons – it tells the kitchen how many meals are ordered, and it provides a headcount in case of emergency evacuation. So we save the register, closing it, and arriving after then is considered ‘late’.
There are many codes available to schools to record reasons for absence but none exists in the list for ‘adverse weather’. There is illness, educational visit, authorised leave, dual registration, unauthorised leave, no reason yet given, late before register closes and so on, but no code for ‘adverse weather’. There is a code to show that school was shut for all pupils, or for some, but this is because the school has made that decision. Therefore absence in adverse weather, perhaps because the parent could not safely travel due to road conditions and having a young infant with them adding to difficulties, is recorded as an absence. In the vast majority of cases it will be authorised on the first day (as I do not know what the road conditions are like on every road in Sheffield) as long as a parent informs school of the situation. It is highly unlikely that any more will come about from that absence. It may, though, be a factor considered in ‘persistent absence’ cases when we are reviewing data with the Attendance Officer.
Prosecutions by the Local Authority for poor attendance do happen. A recent report showed, by access to nation-wide data through a Freedom of Information request, that Sheffield has an above average rate of prosecutions per 1,000 pupils. This school has a record of none in the last five years. Our average attendance is significantly above the national average and target. Around 10% of absence is for leave of absence. Only 0.3% is unauthorised absence. This is not to say I would not ask the LA to consider a prosecution, but that I have not felt it necessary or helpful to do so. A child with persistent absence (below 90%), where attendance plans are not working or being supported by the parents, who lives just over the road, and who does not come to school in the snow, might cause an individual decision to be made.
The primary legislation on school admissions gives the parent the right to express a preference for the school they want their child to attend. In practice this means most go to the local school and some travel from outside the catchment area. Theoretically, a parent could send their child to school in a different authority or city – a child at our school could live in Derby (as long as they got a place first). The parent then has a responsibility alongside that right – to get the child to school on time each day. Parents choose to send their children to our school, and those from further away or with more difficult journeys, perhaps with two buses, knowingly choose to do so. That snow makes the journey difficult is entirely foreseeable and could be seen as something the parent should think about before applying for a place.
Only when the LA offers a school place more than 3 miles way from home (for children aged 8 and over) does it then offer transport costs. Less than this and the parent is expected to pay the cost themselves as the journey is considered to be within reasonable walking distance. Walking distance is a fundamental part of school place allocation. Obviously adverse weather does affect the state of pavements as well as roadways. This can make walking to school difficult. As explained earlier however, decisions about conditions on the parent’s street and whether it is safe to travel are for the parent to make, as it is for colleagues.
The policy for staff attendance in adverse weather says:
All staff (teaching and support staff) have a contractual obligation to be at work. Staff should be prepared to make alternative travelling arrangements for arriving at school on time or as soon as possible after the normal start time should adverse weather conditions make this necessary.
Staff with disabilities may be granted special leave with pay subject to Headteacher approval.
Some staff have childcare or other domestic arrangements which may make it difficult for them to change their early morning routine in order to arrive on time. Delays in travel may therefore be unavoidable. However, staff must make every effort to arrive at school on time or as soon as possible thereafter.
It is recognised that some staff may need to take time off to care for dependants. Although staff do have the right to time off to care for dependants in such unforeseen events, this statutory right does not give an entitlement to unreasonable periods of extended leave.
There may be difficulties for staff with long journeys. However, all staff must make every reasonable effort to attend on working days. Where pupils are not present staff can undertake relevant training or planning activities. Staff may be permitted to undertake some work at home, however this is subject to Headteacher approval and must be for specific agreed activities.
With no definition of what ‘every reasonable effort’ is or what ‘every effort’ means the Headteacher is still left to use discretion. It is clear however that snow, ice, cold etc. are not to be used as excuses – it is reasonable for an employer to expect an employee to try to come to work every day they are paid to attend. This is the same as for pupils – they should attend every day also, and try to be on time every day, too.
Personal factors will be considered. Disability or pregnancy may make travel more hazardous and less advised. This is the same for staff and parents and pupils.
On matters of pay, the Policy states:
Under the school’s leave of absence policy the Headteacher can choose to authorise paid leave for ‘other reasons’. It is entirely the Headteacher’s decision whether or not to use this discretion to authorise payment in circumstances such as staff with long and difficult journeys, or staff who may be injured or pregnant etc. that may present a higher risk in getting to work. Where the Headteacher chooses to make such decisions, they are obliged to ensure all staff are treated fairly and consistently.
Staff are likely to be very well-aware of the way in which the Headteacher exercises such discretion in all situations covered by the Leave of Absence Policy, and for those shorter period absences that do not require a full session out of school. (For example, next week – w/b Monday 26 March – a part-time member of staff has agreed with a colleague to swap around the hours worked so that they can attend their own child’s Sports Day event at EIS, Attercliffe. The swap will cause a move of the colleague’s PPA, and possibly some small changes to the curriculum timetable for the week. The Headteacher could refuse permission for this, or only allow time off without pay, as neither the Leave of Absence Policy nor the Flexible Working Policy gives this ‘time off’ or flexible working as a right.)
There is, then, a reasonable expectation that the whole school community will make efforts to get to school on time every day. There are factors at play that may make this difficult. However, the ACAS Winter Weather guidance makes the point that employees who are parents should consider how they are going to travel to work if travel is disrupted, and consider child care arrangements as a standby if needed. What we expect people to do is to think and plan ahead. These weather conditions are not unheard of, as they are not conditions that occur only once in fifty or one hundred years. That would lead to a true exceptional circumstance, mostly likely. We leave home earlier if possible, use a different route to the shortest if necessary, have a second-choice child care informally on call, get things ready the night before. It is reasonable for an employer to expect this of employees, and for a school to expect this of parents and pupils.
We do and we will show understanding for all those who have difficulties on such days as these. No-one has ever been reprimanded here for non-attendance on a day with adverse weather conditions, neither a child nor a member of staff. We do understand that things can be hard – child minders may fall through, partners may be unavailable, roads may be blocked, cars don’t start, public transport terminating short or delayed, and so on.
Making a decision to open or close is very hard, with so many fluid factors to consider, and a difficult timeline on which to work.
- Staff members are not asked to call in every day to tell us they are on their way to work and expect to arrive on time, so why would we expect anything else on any other day? They are expected to let us know if things are different – they will be off or are delayed and will be in but late. So we make the reasonable assumption, like we do on every other day, that we will be fully staffed, or suitably staffed and able to open unless we hear otherwise. Of course, until colleagues set off and start their journey to work they will not encounter the conditions between home and work. Only en-route will they really be able to tell how they are doing. Colleagues use all the usual media for travel updates (such as local radio, Facebook neighbourhood groups, AA Road Watch, Highways England) but still cannot be sure until they experience it for real. And until staff arrive, as described earlier, I do not know for sure. Should I therefore decide to close, or open late, every day?
- Say it snows overnight. The Caretaker does not come out at 02:00 to start clearing paths, but starts work a little earlier than usual. The condition of paths / ability to clear the snow cannot really be judged until efforts begin. Sometimes snow is light and fluffy and easily blown away, other times wet and heavy. Sometimes there is ice underneath from the previous days and sometimes the floor is virtually dry underneath. When the clearing work starts the site may not be useable, but it soon can become so. Additional premises staff are called in to assist on particularly heavy days and the impact of their work can be rapid. However, it is usually after 08:00 before a definite decision can be made about site safety and access.
- Mondays can be harder than Wednesdays because of a weekend’s accumulation.
- Kitchen staff, not employed by school but by the catering contractor, may not be able to arrive. No meals service would mean school could not open. Until we know we do not know for sure. Only the cook in charge starts before school on a normal day so this element is impossible to call any earlier.
- Kitchen deliveries may impact over the medium term. The kitchen does store ‘emergency rations’ (enough for a couple of days) but an inability to deliver for a longer period than this might lead to a closure decision.
- The temperature does tend to rise during the day and this can have significant impact on the surface conditions. What looks impossible at 08:00 can look unchallenging at 10:00. We have to have an eye for the weather forecast and to use our local knowledge. We know, for example, that our lower playground will take a day longer to clear of snow due to its shaded location. We also know that the application of grit salt will make all paths perfectly useable on almost every occasion within half an hour.
- Weather forecasts are not perfect predictors and very local variations can occur. This can have either a negative or a positive impact on our decision making. A forecast of ‘heavy snow’ does not mean that it is guaranteed to a certain depth in all areas, but that there is a higher percentage chance of heavy snow – this is not the same thing at all. Making a decision too early can be presumptive and unnecessary.
The greatest negativity over our opening each snowy day this winter has probably been about school not making a visible daily declaration of the fact. We get compared, in our non-informing daily, with schools that do send out a message. Those schools are, however, frequently informing parents about changes to the normal routine. When ours stays the same i.e. we are open for all pupils and at the usual time, we should not need to state the fact.
Two LA policy decisions and public information streams reinforce this position, that we should assume services are open as normal without expecting that fact to be restated. Sheffield City Council, on its own website, lists school closures and altered opening times. The page states, ‘If your school is not opening as usual, you should hear from your child’s school via their usual methods in the first instance’. The page does not say what a school will do if it is open as usual. We can assume that you will not hear as there is, effectively, no news to give. The Policy on Attendance at Work During Adverse Weather Conditions states, ‘It is therefore important that the decision about partial closure, later opening or school closure is clearly communicated to parents, pupils and staff as early as possible using the schools’ agreed communication strategy for such occasions.’ It makes no mention at all of communicating that school is open as usual.
Communicating that we are open is not, therefore, the expectation of policy, best practice or local authority. It may be that some parents would like to have this communication, but we have conversely had negative feedback on the occasion this winter when we did inform parents by text. The text was sent in response to the high volume of calls seeking clarification because of other schools’ decisions to close or open later. Our practice is to inform parents once, during the autumn term, that we will not be issuing daily updates but will inform parents if we are forced to close, partially close or change our operating hours.
It would be helpful to all concerned if messages from other schools indicated that their decision is taken independently, and that it does not mean that another school will follow suit. This is asking too much of a short text message, however.
How ‘adverse’ adverse weather has to be to start posting updates is unclear. Some would want at any chance of forecast snow, some when the Snake Pass is closed, some when there is snow on S10 pavements, some at 07:00 each morning. Some are fine without any of these.
What I haven’t listed here are the factors we constantly consider throughout every school day that might impact on our ability to operate as usual. We do not, nor does any school, post updates and information about opening arrangements around issues such as water supply, gas supply, fire alarm activation, internet outage, staff absence or attendance, wasp nests, oven faults, boiler or air-con failure, wind, high temperatures, hand-wash stocks, emergency lighting failure, after school activity leader absence and so on. What we do with all these is to inform parents of change – if a Club cannot run we tell those children and parents affected. If we have a long-term staff change we tell the children affected and the parents of those children. We do not as daily practice tell parents that these potential factors in forcing a school closure are not impacting and that school will open as normal. It is, perhaps, the visibility of snow that makes parents more aware and more wary.
Being open as usual is the most effective and clearest indication that we can and are open. It is the best indication for parents for future events of bad weather. We have never said that we will open whatever, but that we will tell all stakeholders about changes if and when they occur, and as soon as possible in each case. Otherwise everyone should assume we are open.
Do staff feel pressurised to walk to school in difficult circumstances; do parents? They shouldn't feel unduly 'pressurised' of course, but they should feel an obligation or responsibility to do so. Whether we are setting an impossible standard is difficult to say. We (senior leaders) are certainly setting an example. We are generally fit and able, and we are willing to don appropriate gear and walk to school if necessary. Some senior leaders have the added challenge of their own children’s care which must make getting to school on time on such occasions more difficult.The school year is only 190 days long, and we will continue to make efforts to open every single one of them.
I was in a meeting at Lydgate Infant School when our office took a call from the local evening paper, the Sheffield Star.
Apparently, they wanted to write a good-news positive story on a snowy day of a school that had managed to open as usual. I declined the offer of an interview. Why?
I could not see any way in which anything I had to say could only be interpreted positively by a reader who might take offence, see what I said as a slight, or feel I was boasting, showboating and being smug.
If I were to say we could only open because of my wonderfully dedicated teaching staff, the negative interpretation might be that I am implying staff elsewhere are not so dedicated.
If I credit our organisational resilience, am I suggesting other schools lack that resilience?
If I comment on the tireless work of our premises staff it might be read as a suggestion that premises teams elsewhere do not work so hard.
If I take some credit for generating a valued staff who know they are appreciated and so give back in this sort of way, it looks as if I am saying other Headteachers to not do so.
If I say it is because my colleagues live near enough to walk in (and do so),then you might think pressure must be put on school staff to all walk in and live local.
And if I were to say it is because of a tradition, an ethos, an expectation that we are indefatigable then it says that other schools lack such a determined ethos.
We were just one main meal away from having to close – Fish Finger Friday had to become Find it in the Freezers Friday as no deliveries had arrived since Tuesday.
We were just one member of kitchen staff from having to close – they operated one day on half-staff as others could not get in.
We were two bags of grit salt away from having to close – we were that close to running out before last week’s delivery.
We were only one understanding away from having to partly close – some staff, and volunteers, brought their own children in with them as their children’s schools were closed. If I’d said no to this then we would have been under staffed to the point of not being able to run all the classes.
We were one portable heater away from closing part of the school – when heating failed in one of the mobile classrooms.
I cannot boast about our opening all the week of snow. I do not know the contexts, circumstances and difficulties other schools faced. I do know we worked hard to open and parents worked hard to get their children in to school. I hope that every child still had a great week, and continued learning. We hope and aim to open every day of the 190 school term days. I think parents should be able to expect it of us and rely upon us to be open.
Three reasons why we open in snow, ice and cold weather, every year
Just to be clear; this is not me writing something to say we are ‘better’ or more efficient in any way than any school that had a delayed opening or was closed for a day during the adverse weather conditions recently. I do not know their particular, local contexts – there are likely to be serious concerns about safe access to the school site or another premises issue caused by the weather, or staffing issues caused by the same but in a different way.
We are open. Simple. No need for a daily text or a website flashing icon. We open, we are open, we will be open. We have been open every winter’s day for at least the last 13 years. It is part of what we are and what we do. It is part of what you can expect. Staff know that we will be open and so they make sure they get here to teach and support. Parents know we will be open so they make the effort to get their children here.
We are not gung-ho or reckless – the site is carefully and fully checked before the gates and doors are unlocked and if the site was not safe, or it was not safe to get on site, we would not open. However, with the Caretaker living on-site we do have an advantage, especially as he, and the whole premises team, are so willing to make the extra efforts needed at this time.
Two: Dedication and location
The school car park is nearly empty on these snowy days because so many of my colleagues walk in from home. We are fortunate, perhaps, that a massive majority of staff live within walking distance of school and they are willing and able to don the walking gear and make their way in on foot.
Many live within the school catchment area. They might have to leave the heavy bags of marking at home when they walk to work but it gets them here safely and on time.
But others walk from further afield: Hillsborough, Walkley, Greystones, Bents Green.
We know how important it is to parents that they can rely on us being open for the full days we normally do. Every one of the usual before and after school clubs ran as normal this week, almost to the bafflement of some parents, but we make these offers seeking the same dedication and commitment from children as we too offer. We are just modelling good behaviours. If we open then parents can go to work as usual and no-one loses a day’s pay or a day’s effectiveness.
As it is we only open to the children on 190 days a year – we can’t afford to lose one to snow. At the moment we are chasing ‘late’ arrivers as those few lost minutes each day add up. I don’t like the hypocrisy, that moaning about one and allowing the other too easily, we would show unless a closure was essential and unavoidable.
Resilience is an attribute or attitude that schools should be promoting. Some schools actively and overtly teach it. We think that opening when it snows (or rains, or is hot, or is windy, or leaves are falling, …) shows the resilience of the organisation and the adults in school. It promotes the same in the children and subtly teaches the same resilience to the children. A bit of snow will not stop us – so it’s snowing? And?
Crosspool, Crookes, Fulwood, Lodge Moor, Nether Green and so on are on a hill. The weather is different up there from how it is in the city centre. It is colder, windier, wetter, and in winter it snows more and freezes more often. Local residents (the parents of our pupils) know this when they move here, and it is part of the attraction of the Outdoor City. I believe the local community is ready for the weather conditions we get most years, and has all the personal kit needed to manage in it successfully.
Nick Clegg MP once wrote in the Lib Dem local newsletter, Focus, that folks in these areas ‘live at altitude’. That might be over-stating it rather, but you can buy slip-on crampons in the local hardware store, kids arrive in school in salopettes, walking boots are almost de rigueur.
A friend of mine, on his first visit to the U.S. of A., asked a store assistant in one of those gigantic general stores what time they closed. “Close, Sir? We never close.”
‘Never’ might be going too far (we once had to close during an outbreak of a serious contagious illness to allow for vaccination), but it will be very rare indeed.
Please assume we are open unless otherwise officially informed.