School Snow Closures Loose Hidden Educational Value

Opinion / January 24, 2013

When I was at school, several millennia ago, I cannot recall a single day the school was closed; unfortunately. Not for Baker days, inset days or because it was snowing. The modern manifestation of risk assessment didn’t exist, all teaching resources held amazing respect, lived locally and parents’ contemplating the need of cover for children away from school was miniscule.

Education is all about preparing children for adulthood. High on the agenda should be self-preservation, versatility and how to cope in an emergency. Better still is the knowledge of how to make decisions and manage themselves in unusual circumstances. Key to learning is experience and what better way to prepare children than with a practical experiment. Recognising learning retention is greatly enhanced through practice surely we can use the current cold snap to let children experience the essentials of learning to deal with inclement weather. This opportunity is completely lost by closing the school. Obscurely the example set by doing so promotes avoidance rather than surmounting the issue. Mankind’s ability to climb mountains, “because they are there” would be lost if a zero risk policy is enforced. Instead of introducing children to metaphorically climb the north face of the Eiger we will educate them to take the train that burrows its way through the mountain towards the summit. It’s quicker and safer but the spirit of adventure and resilience is missing. We will systematically breed a nation that relies on others to resolve issues.

Significant changes in our lifestyle have not helped. Gone are the days when most parents worked a stone’s throw from where they lived. Teachers who lived round the corner now suffer the fate of the dreaded commute from distant affordable residential areas. The journey to school previously achieved by children using Shanks’ pony (walking) rather than the school bus or SUV has reduced our national resilience to solve problems. Couple this to an overreliance on health and safety, risk assessments and operating targets it is no wonder that Head Teachers opt for the safe ground and close the school when it snows.

A closed school becomes more acceptable than the risk of children being snowed in during the day, or the loss of OFSTED points due to absenteeism by children who couldn’t get to school. Or be short staffed by teachers who also failed to get to school. Instead we have a mass of children who are missing out on a key element in their education. In addition to the academic content where lost lessons could impact on exam performance, children are missing the learning process that is associated with overcoming hurdles; the commitment to achieve in the face of adversity. Maybe overstated but many employees cite a key problem with many school leavers is their work ethic, commitment and punctuality. This can leave many school leavers misplaced in employment and many employers frustrated with new recruits.

In this great wide world in which we now live jobs can migrate overseas at an alarming rate and speed. Modern communications have increased the flexibility open to many employers. A lack in the availability of good staff scores highly in a company’s decision to move a function or complete process overseas. And we are not helping by giving children the soft option of staying away from school when it snows. Snow happens; deal with it.

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