PUBLISHED: 18:02 28 December 2018
The Beast from The East and heavy snowfall are being blamed for hundreds of lost school days across Suffolk in 2018.
Data provided by Suffolk County Council shows that schools were forced to shut up shop for a combined 761.5 days when the Beast From The East hit in February this year.
Meanwhile Stoke High School-Ormiston Academy closed for one day because of flooding and three schools; Barningham CEVCP School, Ormiston Sudbury Academy and Wenhaston Primary School all closed because of high winds.
In Ipswich, which is less affected by extreme weather than more rural communities in the county, 56 school days were recorded as being cancelled.
Read more: 2018 – A year of extreme weather
The Suffolk County Council website claims: “Headteachers will always make every effort to ensure that their school remains open. However, in extreme conditions it can be very difficult, or even impossible, for pupils and staff to get to school.”
Suffolk County Council refused to comment on the data and said the decision to close is left to individual schools as they are best placed to take into account all of the circumstances.
Graham White, who is the executive member of Suffolk’s National Union of Teachers section of the National Education Union, said: “The data suggests that Suffolk schools were closed an average of 1.5 days this year, which isn’t a huge amount in the grand scheme of things. However we do want schools to be open as much as possible as we want children to have the best education.
“It is regrettable that schools have to close at all but sometimes it is a necessary measure as teachers and staff have to be able to get to schools in order for them to run.”
Mr White continued: “30 or 40 years ago we were in a different situation as teachers lived close to schools whereas nowadays it is more common for them to travel 30 or 40 miles to work and sometimes it is too dangerous because of the treacherous country roads – the teachers’ and students’ safety is the most important aspect.
“If there are any extreme weather predictions then I would suggest that teachers set work for children to do from home via the internet. If they are focussed on learning then they will do this.”
The data collected takes into account all schools in Suffolk including, primary, secondary and special schools – those that are run by local authorities as well as academies.
Labour spokesman for education in Suffolk, Jack Abbott, said: “Clearly, adverse weather conditions are beyond our control and schools will only shut as a last resort.
“However, with the Tories proposing to cut winter gritting in the forthcoming budget, there is a real prospect that we could see a further loss of school days, particularly in rural areas.”
Millions of pounds of cutbacks are set for council services in Suffolk in 2019. Winter gritting and out of hours standby services will be reduced as part of the cutbacks.
Read more: Council reveals swathe of cutbacks from 2019 and proposals for council tax increases
Cllr Abbott continued: “Whilst we can’t control the weather, it seems nonsensical to cut the very thing that could ensure children don’t miss out on school.”
In response, Mr White added: “The gritters try and do all the main bus routes, which unfortunately doesn’t always include gritting country lanes and if any cuts are made then this may have an impact on the number of schools closing.”
These proposals will be decided by the council in February 2019.