Weather policy criticised after party cancelled

A PARENT has hit out at severe weather arrangements for schools after a group of children were left in the lurch when their Christmas party was cut short.

Neil Jones said the group of Beavers had been due to have their party in Borrowfield School last Wednesday, but the building was closed after an hour "due to the weather", leaving the group's leader with the task of trying to contact parents for the 20 youngsters to be collected.

The school had been booked from 6 to 8pm, but Mr Jones, whose seven-year-old son was at the party, said the janitor "effectively threw the kids out" at 7pm.

He said: "They were going to sit down to have their snacks and they were very disappointed.

"I was going back at 7pm to help them out but the leaders had to 'phone round to find their parents and it caused a lot of inconvenience to them and the people running it."

In an e-mail to education director Neil Logue, Mr Jones said as there was evidence of a thaw and access roads were clear he could see "no good reason" why the decision had been taken and called for a review of council policy.

He said: "If the decision had been reached earlier, why was the Beavers' leader not informed earlier?"

Mr Jones, whose son attends St Margaret's Primary, also challenged the decision to close local schools due to weather conditions at the beginning of the month which, he said, also caused problems for parents.

He said: "I gather from the headmistress that these decisions were reached by the burgh co-ordinator for the Montrose cluster. The Thursday decision was, frankly, appalling and totally unnecessary, involving both the school staff in a considerable additional workload in calling parents and the parents themselves in significant inconvenience. And for what? Collecting the children two hours early on a day when the weather was stable.

"The decision to close the school all day on Friday, December 3, was also unnecessary. The roads were perfectly driveable and the access paths to the school were also fine.

"It's about time we woke up to the fact that snow and ice are very likely to be a norm and not a rarity. Shutting the schools at the first sign of trouble will mean children's education is going to be severely curtailed on an ongoing basis if you don't imbue your officials with a more can-do and positive attitude."

Senior education manager Craig Clement said the decision to cancel all school lets had been taken on Wednesday evening - the night of the party - to ensure "janitorial resources" were available during the school day and to take account of predicted falling temperatures.

He also said the council tries to keep schools open unless weather conditions put pupils and staff safety at risk.

He said: "One of my colleagues attempted to make contact with the lessee, but unfortunately this was not possible. In addition information was provided via Tay Connect and Radio Tay, albeit I appreciate club members do not necessarily listen to this station.

"My understanding is that the janitor responded sensitively to the situation in consultation with the group leader.

"A decision to close any school is not taken lightly. However I am sure you will appreciate it is a difficult position and a number of factors need to be taken into consideration."

Mr Clement also pointed out the local schools closed after consulting with all head teachers

He added: "It is perhaps also worth noting that a significant number of staff have worked exceptionally hard to clear paths, car parks etc., and also to attend their place of work, or an alternative school closer to their house where travel was difficult, to allow schools to open."

But Mr Jones claimed that the problem lies with a blanket policy for the entire county and, given the different factors affecting each school, the decision to close a school should rest with the head teacher.

He also said the decision to close Borrowfield in the middle of an event raised safety issues.

Mr Jones said: "An attempt to contact the lessee is not acceptable. I gather a garbled message was left with the young daughter of the area Scout leader.

"However, the person leaving that message left no indication of who they were or what organisation they were representing and no further contact was made. Little wonder that the Beavers' leader was unaware that the school would be made unavailable. The result of this monumental piece of inadequacy was a potentially serious safety issue.

"The Beavers' leader had to telephone all the parents whilst attempting to maintain control of a very lively group of excited primary school age children. Secondly, not all parents could be contacted - some may have indeed seen the two-hour party as a window of opportunity to go shopping or do other activities - which potentially meant some of the children may have had to have spent an hour outside in freezing temperatures, not necessarily with adequate clothing.

"An instruction to the janitors to use their own initiative in cases where it was obviously known there might be a problem would have helped."