The newspaper headlines about ‘The Beast from the East’ created a big fuss amongst students and parents and pretty much as soon as the first flake hits the ground we have both asking about the school to be closed.

In many ways deciding on a snow closure is one of the most difficult decisions that a school takes. We do not want to lose lessons, we have mock exams on, we know closure causes problems for our families, and we take our responsibility ‘to be open for business’ very seriously. Equally, we have to be aware that we have a large number of children who travel in (many on public transport who decide on their service), we have to consider staff who have long journeys, we have a responsibility for making sure the site is safe, and we have to consider the footpaths and walkways around Lichfield that are often not gritted.

When reaching a decision on a school closure, the Headteacher, Deputy Headteacher and the site team run through the following steps:

1. We check the site walk-ways and pathways to ensure they are safe and secure.
2. We check the roads and pathways in the local area.
3. We check that the catering deliveries, etc, can make it in.
4. We liaise with the bus services to ensure they are all operating.
5. We regularly check the weather forecast.
6. We liaise with neighbouring schools so that there is a balanced decision-making process.

Wendy Bennett, School Business Manager, said: “It is literally a case of regularly checking the forecasts, getting up through the night to check the snow levels, and getting into school early to walk the site. We have a duty to tell parents early so they can make child care arrangements, but we also have to strike a balance of not jumping to a quick decision that then sees the snow gone by mid-morning.”

Of course, there is always the possibility that the school could open in the morning and close later during the day if the weather forecast has worsened. In this scenario we follow similar steps, and a text message will go out to parents, as well as via social media, and students will be given permission to use their own mobile phones to flag up any early closure. Naturally, we would never leave children stranded so staff will remain at the school until the very last child is either packed onto the buses or picked up by their parents.

Naturally, we rely on the support and patience of parents and would ask that everyone acts calmly in dealing with a snow closure or snow shower:

1. NOT phoning their children to tell them they are coming home or can leave the site.
2. NOT phoning the school to ask / request an early finish / closure – it is impossible to respond to 1,000+ parents in what is always an extra hectic day.
3. DO keep an eye on school text messages, the school website and the school Twitter feed where any snow closure decisions will be swiftly circulated.
4. DO recognise that one snow shower does not mean an automatic closure.
5. DO recognise we deal with this decision as best as we can and balance all of the facts.

Matt Allman, Headteacher, said: “We face a range of opinions about snow closures – with some evoking the  Blitz spirit and saying that in their day the school never closed, to other parents who pretty much contact the school with the first snowflake to insist their child is safely taken home. Certainly, the rules and expectations about site safety are very different nowadays to when I was at school. The only certainty is that as with many decisions you cannot please all of the people all of the time. The first time I had to close a school I ended up with eight messages saying I had been right to open, and eight saying the exact opposite. It is very much a ‘no-win situation’ – all we can do is weigh up all of the facts on an hour-by hour basis, make a decision, and then get on with it.”

REMINDER – The first place to learn about any snow closure is via the school’s Twitter account (@friaryschool) and the school website (www.friaryschool.com). Following this, there will be text messages and a posting on the Staffordshire School Closure website:  https://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/education/schoolsandcolleges/emergencyclosures/schoolclosurelist/schoolclosurelist.aspx. Certainly, no telephone conversation is going to inform any parent of a snow closure before we have gone through these channels.