Saturday, January 16, 2010

O.k folks; snow's over (a bit of a rant about schools, ice and snow)

So the Great Snow of 2010 seems to have passed on - and, in Northamptonshire, largely passed us by. Not one snow day for me, compared with the five I was lucky enough to be blessed with last February*.

The rest of the country wasn't so unlucky, though, and by all accounts the majority of the UK's schools have seen a few days closure, which has been accompanied by the usual media coverage which includes a large number of people complaining about schools and teachers**.

What gets me most about this is not the fact that Stephen W. Public leapt on that most accessible of bandwagons and complained about teachers yet again; we have come to expect that by now. Whenever there's the slightest sniff of something untoward happening in today's world it appears to be a natural human response to Blame The Teachers.

No; what gets me most is the focus of a disturbing majority of the complaints: Mr & Mrs Public were quite happy to whinge about the schools being closed because, just like last year, it meant that they had to take a day or two off work in order to look after their offspring, and in some cases this meant not being paid for that time off.

"What's the problem with that?" I hear you ask! The problem is the focus. Very, pitifully, few of them have, for example, complained that a few days off could adversely affect their children's education; an argument that I would have no choice but to sympathise with. Instead, these parents are complaining about having to deal with, at worst, the loss of a day or two's pay; at best, the opportunity to spend an extra few hours with their kids.

So my problem with the media-moaning frenzy that accompanies any such event is this: It reinforces the view that a large fraction of the general public appear to hold, which is that teachers are state-funded babysitters whose primary function is to look after the nation's kids while their parents can go off and do some proper work. The idea of teachers as educators, with the job function of trying to supply children and young adults with essential life skills and academic tools, seems to be a view held by very few people outside of the education profession.

The decision to close a school in the face of adverse weather is not one that is ever made lightly, and it makes my blood boil to hear superficial jibes being thrown at teachers by the public and the media when such a closure is deemed necessary. Compare it to the flipside of the coin, when schools soldier on despite possibly dangerous conditions and students are injured*** or even killed. This leaves teachers and schools open to accusations of incompetence, negligence and other such allegations including questions about why the school hadn't been closed in the first place! During last February's snow, I was made aware of a school that had closed only to be threatened (with legal action) by a body of parents and (with pay-docking) the Local Authority, and another just down the road from the first which had opened and was also threatened with legal action because a parent slipped on ice and injured themselves! How, exactly, are schools supposed to win in situations like this?

Having said all of that, this year's coverage of heavy snowfall seems to me to have involved significantly less teacher-bashing than last February's. Is that accurate, or is it simply that I have been exposed to less of it due to having been at school rather than at home for the duration? I hope that it's an indication of the movement of general opinion towards thinking about the real issues behind, and solutions for, school closures caused by unsavoury weather.

On a lighter note, take a look at this groovy picture of the UK covered in snow towards the beginning of January.

* No, I'm not overly upset by the thought of having a day off work bestowed upon me out of the blue. That doesn't mean that I don't make every reasonable effort to get there, and on the majority of occasions that my school has been closed due to adverse weather conditions, I have either already arrived at school, or been on the way in before the decision has been made.
** Any opportunity, eh?
*** I know, personally, at least two children and one member of staff who slipped on ice on or near my school grounds and damaged themselves to a point that required some form of medical attention: one of the children and the member of staff both received not inconsiderable blows to the head as a result of their fall.