Temperature - Severe weather conditions advice

 During the current prolonged spell of snowy weather, a number of issues have arisen on which members and school/health and safety representatives are seeking advice.

The question and answers set out below deal with some of the most common questions being raised.

 School Closure – The Facts

 The DCSF advises that it is preferable for individual schools in consultation with local authorities to decide whether to stay open or close.  Local authorities may, however, take decisions on closure with respect to community and voluntary controlled schools if they wish to ensure a consistent approach across an area.  Local authorities do not have the power to oblige foundation or voluntary aided schools or academies to close.   Schools are advised to take a common-sense approach based on local conditions and the potential risks to pupils and staff both in school and while travelling between home and school.  DCSF advice is available from http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/educationoverview/severeweather/faqs/

 

On some occasions schools may need to close early because of rapidly deteriorating conditions and problems with transport home.  Schools should have systems in place for alerting parents in such circumstances.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

My head teacher is putting pressure on staff to get into school.  Many staff are facing long drives in treacherous driving conditions or are facing uncertain journeys on public transport.  Is it reasonable to expect them to come into school in these circumstances?

 

Whilst it is fair enough to expect staff, particularly those who are very local, to make reasonable attempts to get to work, head teachers should not be expecting staff to ignore official advice not to travel and put themselves at risk.  The DCSF suggests that if traffic organisations recommend only ‘essential travel’ that ‘essential travel’ includes pupils going to school and staff going to work.  The NUT disagrees with this interpretation of ‘essential travel’ which, if adopted, would result in no decrease of traffic whatsoever!  In our view ‘essential travel’ is that which is needed to protect people, for example medical or emergency services, gritting services, food supplies etc.

 

My school has been closed for a week.  Will we have to make up this time either this term or in the summer term?

 

The NUT considers that such a move would be unreasonable, given that term dates are published more than 12 months in advance and that staff and parents will in many cases have made holiday plans.  Contact your local association or division if this is proposed.

 

I’ve had to miss two days of school because my own child’s school was closed because of the snow.  Will I be paid?

 

There is a statutory right to take unpaid leave of absence for family and domestic reasons for incidents involving employees’ dependants.  In addition there may also be a contractual entitlement to a certain number of days’ paid leave by virtue of a local agreement.  The NUT would encourage schools to look generously upon requests for paid leave of absence in these exceptional circumstances, particularly given that teachers cannot take annual leave in the way that other employees can.

 

My school is closed to pupils but staff have been directed to attend where possible.  Is this reasonable?  If I cannot attend, will I still be paid?

 

Yes, but only if staff are able to attend without putting themselves unnecessarily at risk.  Those who cannot attend can agree with their head teacher to undertake certain tasks at home, including PPA and other appropriate activities.   Those who can attend may be able to participate in some joint staff planning.  The NUT would argue that wherever possible staff should be permitted to work at home, rather than remaining unnecessarily in school.  As far as pay is concerned, the NUT will challenge any attempts to withhold pay from teachers who were genuinely unable to attend work.

 

I live close to my school and have, therefore, been able to attend work, along with a few other colleagues.  The head teacher has directed us to assist with shovelling snow and treating paths with grit/salt.  Is this reasonable?

 

Definitely not.  Such tasks are not part of the professional duties of teachers and should be undertaken by premises staff.

 

I can’t get to my own school because of the snow and my head teacher has suggested that I offer my services at my nearest school.  Is this a sensible idea?

 

No it isn’t.  It would not be helpful for schools to have strangers turning up offering their services.  Quite apart from the issue of CRB checks, the idea is totally impracticable.  Schools need to make decisions about closure early in the morning or the previous evening.  Such decisions cannot be made based on the off-chance that other teachers might be available to help out.

 

More than half of the pupil toilets in my school are unusable due to frozen pipes.  Would this be a good enough reason to close the school?

 

This could well be the case, depending on the number of toilets available and how quickly the problem can be remedied.  Certainly a lack of toilets (and also warm water for handwashing) can very quickly become a health issue.  The Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999 specify that there should be 1 toilet for every 10 pupils under the age of five, one toilet for every 20 pupils aged 5 or over and 1 toilet for every 10 pupils in special schools.

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