09/01/2010

School closures affecting services and the economy


Ceredigion County Council has appealed to National Assembly Ministers to postpone the A, AS and GCSE exams due to take place in secondary schools across Wales next week. Ceredigion's appeal apparently also has the backing of Powys Council.

Up to now I’ve supported the weather-related decisions taken by Ceredigion Council in difficult circumstances, but I do seriously question the readiness of the Education Department to allow its schools to close. Although Aberystwyth town is one of the areas least badly hit by the snow, all schools have been shut with parents being told that, for health & safety reasons, they won’t open again until pavements around the schools are free from ice. With more snow forecast for Sunday and Monday and temperatures set to remain at or below freezing there seems to be a real possibility of some schools being shut for a full two weeks after the Christmas holidays have ended.

Apart from the disruption to the education programme, this means hundreds of parents staying away from work to look after their children with all the impact on other services and the economy that this entails, including cancelled hospital operations. The knock-on effect of scores of workers being absent in addition to those who genuinely can’t get to work doesn’t seem to have been taken into account.

Maybe the mild winters of recent years have left us out of the habit of coping with bad weather. I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with people over a certain age talking fondly about walking to school through snow drifts and the ice slides they used to play on in the playgrounds.

I fully recognise that some children in rural areas will find it impossible to get to school. But in my view the schools should be open for those who can make it. If the issue has now become the safety of pavements around the schools and the fear of Councils being sued if someone slips over then surely it would be worth prioritising clearing these in order to get the community functioning again. I see today’s Cardiff v. Blackpool match has gone ahead after the club organised fans to help clear the concourse around the ground.

The issue of whether exams should take place next week is, of course, a slightly different issue. Wales has to be treated as a whole in any decision taken in order to maintain the confidentiality of the exam papers. Ceredigion seem to have appealed to the Assembly without realising they really needed to be putting their energies into enlisting the support of other councils around Wales. Other than Powys, that doesn’t seem to have been forthcoming. The Welsh Joint Education Committee disagree with Ceredigion and the exams will be going ahead regardless, forcing secondary schools to open. How much easier would that be now if they hadn’t all closed in the first place?

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