During the recent severe weather period we faced a significant challenge in terms of our schools. Despite this, we still managed to avoid a blanket school closure on Monday 5 March. A huge logistical exercise allowed us to open all secondary schools for S4-S6 and all but 19 of our rural primary schools, which remained closed. Other local authority areas still have blanket school closures in place.
The safety of our pupils always remains our priority.
After the severe weather in 2010 we prepared a system called ‘Resilient Schools’ to allow us to keep as many schools to open in severe winter weather as we can.
How Resilient Schools works
For each school, we have an allocated group of staff who live locally. This means that during a severe weather event like we have experienced recently, these teachers could walk to their nearest school. For example, a teacher may live in Peebles but work at a school in Hawick. Under Resilient Schools they would walk to their nearest ‘Resilient School’ in Peebles to allow them to teach a class and support the continuity of learning for pupils at that school.
The number of nearby teachers is then mapped out against those pupils who live nearby and could also safely walk to school (i.e. within 1.5 miles). This then allows us to calculate the teacher/pupil ratio for each school and identify what schools could open, or partially open, and for what year groups in these circumstances.
In some schools for example, all year groups were able to open on Monday 5 March, whereas others could only open for some year groups. This is dependent on what staff is available.
This means pupils have a different teacher to normal?
Even though pupils may have a different teacher to normal - we are confident that this allows continuity in learning and as little disruption as possible to children's education during a severe weather situation.
Why can’t parents drop off their children in a car during Resilient Schools?
There are two reasons we cannot have parents who live further away from schools ‘dropping off’ children during Resilient Schools:
1 –it would not be safe for vehicles to be attempting to access school areas during a time where large accumulations of snow are still blocking entrances, carparks, drop-off areas, and especially not when large numbers of children are walking to school.
2 - the system has been calculated based on pupils home addresses against teachers home addresses. Therefore there would not be enough teachers to satisfy the pupil/teacher ratio if all children attended school.
Why can’t teachers who live beyond 1.5miles not go to school?
Resilient School procedure works on a walking distance of up to 1.5miles for children and staff. School openings when Resilient Schools are invoked is based on ratios of staff to pupils all living within 1.5miles of that school. If weather conditions are severe we should not have anyone walking greater distances. We expect teachers to work from home during any absence if they are not able to walk to school.
It’s unfair for those who have to stay at home
We understand that some parents may be frustrated that some pupils could attend school, whilst others could not. Under this system, we aim to keep as many classes open as we possibly can during these situations so a reduced number of children are missing out on school.
We also continue to support the economy as much as we possibly can by allowing some parents to get back to work.
A blanket school closure would impact on a much larger number of pupils and parents.
Why were we not told quicker?
We aim to communicate as early as we possibly can with parents about the situation, and we do this through our website, social media, local radio and also via Groupcall.
However, parents should understand that there are a large number of factors that need to be taken into consideration. This includes assessing school buildings, accesses, safe routes to school, fire exits, evacuation areas, staffing levels, school catering etc. Decisions are also made in conjunction with advice from Police Scotland, the Met Office, Emergency Planning and Council Officers trained in Risk Assessment.
In this situation it was not possible to make any decisions before Sunday afternoon as we had to undertake all of the above, as well as prioritise council resources for medical and care emergencies. For example, we cannot prioritise clearing school accesses over clearing roads for the emergency services.
I think it’s still unsafe for my child to attend school
We advised all primary school children should be accompanied to and from school by an adult on foot to ensure the safety of children. However, parents ultimately have the responsibility to decide whether or not they wish to send their children to school under these circumstances.
Why only open for S4-S6 on Monday 5 March?
We prioritised S4-S6 because they are preparing for the forthcoming exam period. As a result we put in place a specialist timetable particularly for this group to allow them to catch up with coursework.
Why resilient schools for primary and not secondary?
We prioritised clearing car parks and entrances for secondary schools to allow our senior pupils to gain access for the above reason.