Schools should make every effort to stay open in cold weather

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

Serious questions need to be answered by many of the schools that closed this week due to wintry weather.

There will be some schools in the worst hit areas that made a reasonable decision to close in the circumstances, for example if they were in a location where snow drifted.

But it is doubtful that such sound reasons existed for all 140 schools that did close, an alarmingly high number.

There were other school closures in parts of the Province earlier in the month.

Yet conditions at no point this month have been anywhere near as bad as they were in Northern Ireland in the Christmas of 2010.

Even during that winter, the most severe on record in Ulster, conditions were comparatively mild compared to the extremes that are often seen in Great Britain, let alone mainland Europe.

Prior to the winter of 2010/2011, Northern Ireland was the only part of the British Isles that had never gone below zero on the Fahrenheit scale (minus 18 Celsius).

All schools should endeavour to be able to operate in subzero temperatures: they should have heating systems that can cope and gritting capacity. They should have contingency plans so that a limited number of exits are well-prepared so that arriving and departing pupils are unlikely to slip.

We live in an age in which cars and buses are well-designed for cold weather, and in which insulation of buildings gets ever better.

Some schools seem a little too keen to close in cold weather. Often health and safety is cited, which makes the decision to close seem appropriate, and can make critics of the closures seem harsh.

But closure causes chaos for working families. The parents cannot avoid work due to sleet and snow, and neither should those who run schools.