Temperature - Severe weather conditions advice

 During any prolonged spell of severe cold or snowy weather, issues arise on which members and school/health and safety representatives need advice, particularly in relation to school closure.


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


School Closure – DfE Advice


The DfE advises (at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/emergencies-and-severe-weather-schools-and-early-years-settings) that any decision to close a school is for head teachers, since they know their schools and the surrounding area.  DfE advice is that head teachers should use common sense in assessing the risks and keep their schools open whenever it is safe to do so.  Schools can improve their readiness and planning for severe weather by signing up to the Met Office’s severe weather warning system at www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/uk/uk_forecast_warnings.html


Severe weather may mean that some schools are unable to open as planned or that some students are unable to reach their school.  Where schools are unable to open they should try to minimise disruption by informing parents, providing as much notice as possible, using their website; ParentMail; local media or other suitable arrangements.


The DfE advises that head teachers should not be worried about the impact that remaining open may have on their attendance statistics.  When a pupil cannot get in because of severe weather, the school can use attendance code Y, which means that the pupil’s absence will not affect the attendance statistics. 


The Department of Health has published an annual cold weather plan for England since 2011.  It is part of the wider suite of measures which the DH and NHS are taking to protect individuals and communities from the effects of severe winter weather.  The plan provides advice for individuals, communities and agencies on how to prepare for, and respond to, severe cold weather as part of winter planning.  See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cold-weather-plan-cwp-for-england.


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.  It is sometimes suggested 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? 


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. 


If I cannot attend, will I still be paid?


As far as pay is concerned, the NUT will challenge any attempts to withhold pay from teachers who are 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 DBS 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.