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Emergencies - When Can You Close the School?

on Thursday, 25 January 2018.

The drop in temperatures and snow flurries in December caused many schools to close for a day or two. We set out some key considerations for schools dealing with emergencies, like snowy weather, and what to consider when thinking about closing the school.

Taking the Decision to Close the School

The decision to close the school should not be taken lightly. In their non-statutory 2015 guidance, the DfE advises schools to close as a last resort.

Usually the Headteacher is designated as the person who decides whether to close the school and this decision is based on  issues such as inaccessibility and whether there is a serious risk of injury to staff and pupils.

In taking this decision, headteachers might consider factors such as whether:

  • access to and from the site is safe
  • enough staff will be able to make it to school to be able to safely care for the pupils
  • the heating will be sufficient to ensure staff and children will be warm enough
  • catering and other essential services can be provided
  • it could cause disruption essential services such as exams

The DfE states that schools should close as a last resort and should stay open for as many children as possible and if schools do have to close, schools should re-open as soon as possible.

As with all health and safety advice, taking a reasonable and proportionate approach is key. It is not possible to prevent all risks and injuries. However, many of the health and safety risks can be mitigated with prior planning and proper risk assessment. The HSE gives some useful general guidance on planning for inclement weather conditions.

Ratios and Supervision

Schools should bear in mind that the DfE guidance makes allowances for bringing groups of children together, doing different activities and using non-teaching staff and volunteers in order to keep the school open. They also advise that having more than 30 children in one infant age class due to temporary exceptional circumstances is not a reason to close the school.

Communication

Headteachers should inform parents and staff as soon as possible if they intend to close the school, with some Headteacher associations recommending that parents are notified before 7am.

Schools should carefully consider the appropriate means to communicate the decision to parents. It may be necessary to do so in various different ways, including on the School's website, by email or via social media or by informing local radio stations.

Attendance

Where children are unable to get to school due to severe weather conditions, the DfE advise that you can mark them in the register using absence code ‘Y’ so that their absence does not affect your school’s attendance figures.

Exam Disruption

If you have to close your school, or if a child misses an exam due to an emergency, you should discuss alternative arrangements with your awarding bodies.

Planning

We recommend that governors review their school's plans in advance and so that they are clear on the circumstances in which the school may close in advance to ensure that the leadership team are all in agreement before an emergency occurs.

Schools should have in place an emergency plan, which should be followed in the event of any number of incidents, including severe weather. The guidance includes links to a template emergency plan. This plan should be generic enough to cover a range of incidents.

Local Authorities usually have a community risk register, which will include the likelihood and impact of various issues on the area, this can inform your own planning. You can also sign up to severe weather alerts on the Met office website and related flood risk information can be found via the Environment Agency and incidents on local roads can also be sent to you by Highways England.

You should be mindful of your obligations to your insurers too. Usually insurers require that they are informed of any potential claims as soon as possible and the RPA provided by the DfE is no different. RPA rules require schools to have taken "all reasonable precautions to prevent loss, destruction, damage, accident or injury" to ensure cover. Free risk assessment advice is available to members of the RPA - details are available on the DfE RPA website.


Should you wish to discuss this, or any other aspect of emergency planning or health and safety advice, please contact Natalie Wargent on 0117 314 5433 or Sarah Thorley on 020 7665 0823

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