How schools should handle snow days

Every time an English school is forced to take a day off for bad weather, the usual suspects ooze out of the woodwork and make a fuss about the terrible effects of kids missing lessons. So why don’t we follow what they do in the states, and add a day at the end of July?

Snow is the panda of weather. They both look cute, but they suck resources without giving anything useful back. (Don’t start me on snow helping out with skiing. I don’t believe anyone really likes skiing).

Snow is particularly problematic for schools – as colleagues in the north of England learned this week after piles of precipitation caused a second round of closures in a month.

Whenever schools close for snow, Joe Public likes to get up in arms: “In other countries they have piles of snow and everything keeps working, why can we do that here?”

Thing is, I used to live in one of those countries with piles of snow. For two years I lived in Missouri, a US state which is boiling in the summer but enjoys a Narnian Age of Winter between January and March.

While teachers sweat through their shirts during the summer and shiver by radiators in the winter in England, in Missouri, they simply go home when buildings are too hot or too cold. Snow days are almost annual, and totally normal.

In Missouri, they simply go home when buildings are too hot or too cold. Snow days are almost annual, and totally normal

But here’s the thing. There’s a plan for making up the days at the end of the school year. By law, Missouri requires students to attend a set number of days and “emergency make-up days” are planned for the end of term in lieu of any that are missed earlier in the year. Up to five extra days can be added, and schools must make this clear to teachers at the beginning of the year.

If England were to follow this rule then if a school closes for a snow day in January, it must do an extra day in July.

It does mean teachers begin the school year not really knowing when they will go on holiday. But most simply plan their holidays from the final possible date and, if no snow days are taken, consider themselves lucky to be breaking up a week early.

Back in 2010 the idea of snow day make-ups was proposed by a triumvirate of right-leaning think-tanks (Civitas, Policy Exchange, and the Campaign for Real Education). Each claimed that teachers would be incentivised to turn up if they thought their summer holidays would be eaten into due to absences.

Unions meanwhile pointed out that British kids already go to school for 15 days a year longer than American children (a fair point) and that it’s not as if teachers are responsible for or able to clear roads and ensure public transport is running smoothly during severe weather.

At the time, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (as the education department was then called) said it wasn’t going to look at the idea.

But since then, schools minister Nick Gibb has reminded everyone, at every opportunity, that JUST ONE DAY OFF CAN HAMPER CHILDREN’S LIFE CHANCES. Hence he has dedicated himself to taking parents to court for taking their children to theme parks and promised never to rest until every last hoodlum is in a classroom. (Ok, that last bit is artistic licence; he never used the word “hoodlum”).

Still, if the government is going to zealously hunt down parents who take their children out of school for fun events, why not also take the weather seriously?


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