Checklist for Principalswhen ConsideringOpening or Closure of SchoolProduced by the Working Group onSchool Opening/Closure ArrangementsSeptember 2011
CONTENTSPageExceptional Closures - Checklist for PrincipalsAnnex 1 – Health and SafetySevere weather warning - safety guidelines for schoolsStep 1 PreparationStep 2Step 3Step 4Points to consider when deciding to open a schoolRisk Assessment (this includes a blank risk assessmenttemplate for completion by the Principal)Key websites and contacts (to be added to by each school)Annex 2 – Types of closure available to schools
EXCEPTIONAL CLOSURES - CHECKLIST FOR PRINCIPALS PRODUCED BY THEWORKING GROUP ON SCHOOL OPENING/CLOSURE ARRANGEMENTSAn exceptional closure is unplanned, and is due to unforeseen circumstances such asadverse weather conditions, power failure, or situations which affect the safety of pupilsand staff. Exceptional closures require approval from the Department of Education toallow a school to reduce its operational days below the 200 required by legislation.It is important that each school should put in place (and subsequently review) an actionplan during the first term of each school year, before the onset of adverse weather. Indoing so, it should consider the Health and Safety guidelines at Annex 3. Assistancecan be sought from Health and Safety personnel within the Education and LibraryBoards.In times of extreme weather, such as a heavy snowfall, Principals should consider thischecklist as far in advance of closure as possible – the night before closure ifcircumstances allow - and, if necessary, decide to close the school the next day. Thiswill allow early communication with parents and staff and ensure that parents areinformed quickly. While it may not be possible for Principals to make such a decisionthe night before, going through the checklist will help to focus on the key issues to beconsidered and enable them to come to a decision as early as possible. Decisions thenight before can only be taken when all the indications are that adverse conditions willcontinue overnight. If there are doubts, Principals should defer decisions until earlymorning.Local conditions will determine the decision of the Principal (or an agreed deputy suchas the Chairman of the Board of Governors or a senior teacher), who will consider anumber of agreed criteria for closure. Decisions taken must be applicable to eachindividual school – not based on neighbouring schools whose conditions may differ.Issues to consider
The following should be considered in coming to any decision to close for exceptionalreasons. The headline items listed below are dealt with in more detail in Annex 1.Health and safety questions, including:‣ can pupils and staff access the school building safely?‣ can pupils and staff be evacuated in an emergency?‣ in an emergency, could the Emergency Services access the school?‣ is the area designated for disembarkation from transport safe for pupils?Transport – can buses, meal deliveries, etc., reach the school, particularly if theunforeseen circumstances affect a large proportion of pupils?If a limited number of staff and pupils can attend, is the PTR acceptable? Anindication of the acceptable PTR should be included in the school’s emergencyplans for such events.Have local weather forecasts and road conditions, including those for areas fromwhich staff will be travelling, been considered?If a decision is made to closeCommunicationSchools should have in place an agreed plan on communication, not only toadvise parents and staff, and keep them informed, but also to advise the relevantEducation and Library Board, the Department of Education, and CCMS ifappropriate. The DENI school reference number should be quoted in allcorrespondence. (See Step 4 of Annex 3 for relevant contact details for Boards,the Department and CCMS.)
Suggested means of communication include use of a texting service, informingthe media (television and/or radio), email, or telephone (either calls or a recordedmessage.)Parents must be aware of the means of communication that will be used.If possible, update parents/staff at a later time in the day with a view to the “nextday” so that all have time to make suitable family arrangements. Staff should also be encouraged to keep the school updated on their position (2-way communication is vital.)Finally, Annex 2 to this checklist provides Principals with a summary of the differenttypes of closure available to their school and deals with the issue of whether or notschools are required to compensate for time lost due to “exceptional” closure.
ANNEX 1HEALTH AND SAFETYSchools should consider the Health and Safety guidelines during the first term,before the onset of adverse weather and put in place an appropriate action plan.Assistance can be sought from Health and Safety personnel within the Educationand Library Boards.Overall responsibility for health and safety risk in schools lies with the employingauthority, i.e. ELBs for Controlled schools, CCMS for Maintained schools etc.School Governors are responsible for the day to day management of health andsafety in a school. Risk is identified and controlled through Risk Assessment.School Governors and Principals should consult the guidance on RiskAssessment in the schools’ Health and Safety Manual – A Manual for Principalsand Governors. In addition to this, a number of generic risk assessments andadvice on completion are available at each of the Boards’ websites.Controlled SchoolsThe Health and Safety Officers advise schools within each Board on how toconduct risk assessments on hazards, and advise them on remedial action.Maintained SchoolsCCMS is the employing authority for all teaching staff in CCMS schools. Theresponsibility for management of the premises rests with the Boards ofGovernors of such schools as set out in Article 23 of the Scheme of Managementof CCMS schools. CCMS does not have any dedicated health and safety staff,but Board staff will advise maintained schools in their area, although there is nostatutory requirement for them to do so.Voluntary Grammar, Irish Medium and Grant Maintained Integrated SchoolsHealth and safety is entirely the responsibility of the school’s governing body.
SEVERE WEATHER WARNING – SAFETY GUIDELINES FOR SCHOOLSINTRODUCTIONThe decision to open a school during periods of severe weather is dependentupon the Principal carrying out a risk assessment.The risk assessment requires to be thought out in advance of any severeweather so that, when it is required to be undertaken then it is a relatively straightforward process.This guidance is set out in order to assist the school Principal in deciding whetherit is safe to open and continue school during severe weather or whether theschool should close.The guidance is split into 4 key steps:Step 1Step 2Step 3Step 4PreparationPoints to consider when deciding to open a schoolRisk Assessment (this includes a blank risk assessment templatefor completion by the Principal)Key websites and contacts
Step 1 – PreparationThe following points require to be taken into account when preparing a plan to deal with a possible exceptional closuredue to severe weather.KEY ACTIONDoes the school have contact details for allparents/guardians, pupils and staff.Does the school have contact details for the relevant ELBemergency on call officers?Where fuel oil is required. Ensure that fuel level is checkedregularly and appropriate levels maintained.Ensure that heating, lighting and water services areregularly maintained.Maintain sufficient supplies of salt for application tofootpaths and driveways.Where mechanical salt spreaders are utilized, are theyfunctioning and available?Maintain stocks of Safety Signs and Hazard Warning Tapesfor cordoning off hazardous areas.SUPPLEMENTARY ACTIONSAre the contact details updated regularly.Do they include Mobile Telephone numbers?Set a minimum fuel level for a re-order of supply.Check fuel level frequently during severe weatherperiods.Regularly report maintenance issues to the BoardMaintenance Help Desk.Have the Boards Help desk/ emergency on callofficer telephone numbers available.Order supplies before the onset of winter.Have the salt suppliers’ telephone numbers availableor follow board procedure to re order.Order supplies of Hazard tape (yellow/black orred/white).Order signs which prohibit access to hazardousareas.
KEY ACTIONMaintain a system for communicating with Teachers,Building Supervisors, Maintenance Help Desk, Cateringstaff and other supervisory staff. Also schools’ transportservice.SUPPLEMENTARY ACTIONSSchools should have in place appropriateprocedures to ensure that the Principal and staffhave an effective means of 2-way communication todetermine the level of attendance.Maintain contact details of the Boards’ SchoolTransport Service.Prepare a risk assessment which considers the foreseeablerisks at times of severe weather.Avoiding Slips, Trips and Falls at access points into theschool building.Prepare and maintain local contact details for the followingservices: Meteorological Service N.I Water Road Service Rivers Agency N.I. Direct Education and Library Board CCMS Department of EducationUse the Risk Assessment pro-forma set out inSection C Step 3 – Risk Assessment.What parts of the school or routes are mostsusceptible to the effects of severe weather.Maintain adequate supplies of mops and wet tripmats.Increased vigilance from Building Supervisor/staff toensure points of access are kept in safe condition.Use of warning cones/signs.Put each of these services’ websites on yourfavourite folder in the web provider.Access the sites and become familiar with the layoutand where to look for the appropriate information.Refresh favourites regularly.
Step 2 – Points to consider when deciding to open the schoolThe decision to open the school or to continue to operate the school isdependent upon the Principal carrying out a risk assessment. The riskassessment needs to be reviewed and updated in the light of changes in theweather and circumstances.The following points are key considerations when determining whether to open orclose the school. They also form an integral part of the risk assessment processand will allow the Principal to prepare a school specific risk assessment.FirstConsiderationIs the schoolbuildingaccessible?Are there anyareas within theschool localityespeciallyimpassable ordangerous in timesof extreme badweather?Are vehicle routesinto the schoolgrounds passable?Are pedestrianroutes on theschool groundspassable?Other consideration(s)What are the forecasted long-term weatherconditions?Are there any N. Ireland Met Office warningsavailable?Consideration should be given to getting to and fromthe school. In the case of one-way traffic systems,the route into school may be a lesser gradient thanthe route away.There may be locations on the journey wheresnow/ice is known to cause early closure of roads orrail.Alternative routes where possible should beidentified prior to extreme bad weather to help thetraveller to decide their route.Is there means to improve access prior to teachers’attendance, or attendance of school buses,parent/carers’ vehicles, etc?Is parking possible outside the school grounds untilremedial action has been taken to make the areapassable? If a main pedestrian route, inside theschool grounds, is through a vehicle parking areathen vehicles should be excluded. There may be aneed for signage to this effect.Is there means to clear these routes, e.g. salt/grit?If required, can movement to various parts of theschool be limited without disruption – ensuringmaintenance is concerted to general access routes?Can priority be made in respect to slopes, steps orramps, or can these areas be restricted from use?Outside metal staircases should also be avoidedunless appropriately treated.If open, vehicle parking areas should have apassable pedestrian route to access the school.
FirstConsiderationCan the Principalgain enoughteaching and/orsupervisory staff tooperate safely?Is the schoolappropriatelyheated?Are water systemsworkingappropriately?(Welfare)Can the level ofheating bemaintainedthroughout theschool day/week?Can peoplemovement beminimisedbetween schoolbuildings, if accessand egress ismade externally?Restriction ofoutside play wouldlimit the snow/icefrom becomingcompacted, andtherefore moredangerousCan the schoolgrounds bemaintained toeffect opening thefollowing day?Other Consideration (s)The emphasis would be to operate safely.What would be the threshold of staff numbers inrespect to expected pupils.For primary schools, pupils would likely be local, witha greater expectancy of attendance. Schools in ruralareas or Post Primary schools may have pupils froma wider area and may be more dependent on schoolbuses or public transport. Therefore numbers maybe less – and supervision easier.Are fuel supplies adequate?Have there been previous failures of the heatingsystem in autumn/winter months?Is the means for remedial action readily available?Are there known faults in times of severe weather?Are there written records – ensuring methodicalchecks are made?At times of severe weather consider running theheating system during periods of closure or holidays.Is frost protection installed and utilised?If pupil numbers are low, can classes be groupedtogether?Can these areas be cleared and maintained to limitthe restriction?If conditions are not dangerous outside play may bepossible. However supervision may have to behigher.Could play or breaks be staggered to ensureappropriate supervisory levels?If any snow or ice is present prohibit running.Pedestrian walkways should be a priority, overvehicle parking, but in the long term parking areasinside the school should be treated, or cleared ofsnow. Persons who have parked in the schoolgrounds should be aware of the priority and told totake care in this area. Signs could be placed toremind these persons.
FirstConsiderationMonitor theweather situationlocally and throughthe media (MetOffice).Are maintenancematerials andpersonnelavailable to ensurethe school caneliminate, reduceor isolate riskthroughout theschool day?Maintenance should be a priority where pedestrianwalkways also coincide with vehicle areas.Alternatively, restrictions could be made onpedestrians, or cars stopped from entering that area.Other Consideration (s)Government Agencies such as the Roads Servicemay be able to provide information regarding roadclearance, providing assurance of home journeys, orreturn journeys the following day.Met Office provide flash weather warnings (see MetOffice website).Can similar provision be assured for the followingday(s)?Salt/grit spread on walkways or other areas at theend of the day could limit icing. This could alsoprevent a further snowfall from taking a foothold andre-icing.Slush or water from thawed snow/ice should becleared as much as possible to prevent re-icing.Iced slush could be more dangerous than the initialfall as surfaces may be uneven and more slippery.
Step 3 – Risk Assessment(a)Generic Risk Assessment – Severe weather - Ice/SnowThe following Generic Risk Assessment provides Principals with a base ofinformation for them to devise their own risk assessment.This generic risk assessment along with the information in the previous stepsshould provide the Principal with an awareness of the risks involved. This levelof awareness should also contribute to the Principal creating their own riskassessment based upon the specific requirements of the school, its size and themanageability of the issue.ACTIVITY HAZARD PERSONSWHO MAYBE AT RISKGetting tothe schoolTravel viaknown areasof expectedroad closureor steepgradients.Mainentranceinto schoolgrounds.Dangeroustravel inextremebadweatherconditions.Dangeroustravel inextremebadweatherconditions.Entrancenotpossible.Principal,teachers,BuildingSupervisorsand/ormaintenancestaff, pupils.Principal,teachers,BuildingSupervisorsand/ormaintenancestaff.Principal,teachers,BuildingSupervisorsand/ormaintenancestaff.CONTROLS REQUIREDPrincipal monitorsweatherconditions/warningswww.metoffice.gov.ukNo travel should beconsidered ifextreme badweather warningand advice given foronly essentialjourneys to beundertaken.Prior planning bystaff regardingalternative ‘mainroad’ routes, or rail,to school location.Park car outsideschool untilclearance can bemade. If notpassable by foot,access otherreasonable meansinto the school.FURTHERCONSIDERATIONSRural location ofschool and/ormajority of schoolpersonnel.Regional warningsmay not beaccurate at locallevel, so local mediabroadcasts mayalso help.Walking may bereasonablyexpected, whencars or othervehicles cannotmake it all the wayinto the school.Principal to considerwhat is reasonablebased on localityand staff.Signage on mainentrance, or otherentrances ifprohibited fromentry due to ice orother obstruction.
ACTIVITY HAZARD PERSONSWHO MAYBE AT RISKMainentranceinto schoolgrounds.Entranceanimmediateslip hazard.Principal,teachers,BuildingSupervisorsand/ormaintenancestaff, pupils,parents/carers and visitors.CONTROLS REQUIREDClearance of sliphazard, unlessalternative routefound.Other routes may beprioritised andcause closure of themain entrance.Salt/grit may beadequate butmanual work mayalso be required toclear snow/ice if thisis the main and onlyentrance.FURTHERCONSIDERATIONSIf entrance is usedby both vehiclesand pedestrians,salting/gritting maybe a priority. Carsmay be stoppedfrom entry to givepriority topedestrians andavoid risk.Gettingappropriatemembers ofstaff to openschool.InadequatesupervisionTeachers andpupils.A means ofcommunicating withschool staff in orderto establish theirattendance on theday of extreme badweather.A means tocommunicate withschool bus service,local authority andlocal bus serviceoperators toestablish pupilmeans of getting toschool.Principal toestablish whatwould constituteappropriatesupervision –through dynamicassessment on theday of extreme badweather.The emphasisshould be on how tooperate safely, notwhether a full andnormal curriculumcould be followed.Primary schoolpupils are likely tobe local, with agreater expectancyof attendance.Schools in ruralareas or secondaryschools have pupilsfrom a wider areaand may be moredependent onschool buses orpublic transport,therefore numbersmay be less – andsupervision easier.
ACTIVITY HAZARD PERSONSWHO MAYBE AT RISKAccess toschoolbuildings.Slips, tripsor falls.Principal,teachers,BuildingSupervisorsand/ormaintenancestaff,contractors,parents/carers and pupilsCONTROLS REQUIREDSalting/gritting couldbe undertaken whensnow or ice isforeseeable.Salt/grit spreadingon pedestrianwalkways and snowclearance wherereasonable.Whenever possible,slopes, steps,ramps etc. shouldnot be used.However ifappropriatelytreated, thesepedestrianwalkways should beno different from atreated path.The Principal todetermine whichwalkways should beused and treatedfirst.FURTHERCONSIDERATIONSExtreme badweather is generallyforecast, althoughsnow/ice can beworse or less thanexpected,depending on localgeography.If a school’s salt/gritstock is low thenonly main walkwayscould be treated.Other routes couldbe signed toprevent use.Treatment of innerareas such ascourtyards, yards,or some walkwaysbetween buildingsmay be less of apriority.Heating andWelfarefacilities.Keeping theschool open.Cold –belowpermittedwork level(16º C /60.8º F).No sanitaryor drinkingwater.Slips, tripsor falls ofpupils atbreak-time.Principal,teachers,BuildingSupervisorsand/ormaintenancestaff,contractorsand pupils.Pupils andSupervisoryAssistants.Constant heatingthroughout periodsof known cold snapsto prevent frozenpipes.Maintenance ofwater systems, forexample promptrepair of leaks anddrips.Regularmaintenance staffchecks to ensureheating and watersystems are workingwell.No use of yards andother externalareas, whensnow/ice cannot beeasily removed orreduced.If there are externalareas free orgenerally free ofIf the schoolpremises cannot beheated or provisionof water for sanitaryuse or drinkingcannot be madewithin school hoursthen the school mayhave to close.Certain areas couldbe cordoned off andmanaged throughsalting/gritting priorto releasing for use.Melted snow/icecan refreeze socontinued attentionmay be needed.
snow/ice,supervisedplay/break can beundertaken.The supervisionlevel should behigher and runningprohibited.Any areas ofsnow/ice remainingshould be avoidedand managed.Pupils should beinformed ofrestrictions.If yard space isrestricted thenstaggered breakscould beundertaken.However could thissystem beappropriatelysupervised?ACTIVITY HAZARD PERSONSWHO MAYBE AT RISKKeeping theschool open.Furthersnow orice, or icingof previousfall.Principal,teachers,BuildingSupervisorsand/ormaintenancestaff, andpupils.CONTROLS REQUIREDPrincipal to monitorthe weatherconditions throughthe Met Office andlocal media.Information mayalso be gained fromthe Board.Further salt/gritcould be used onwalkways and otherareas to minimisefor the next day.Surface water couldbe brushed to drainsto avoid icing upover night.Maintain walkwaysand key roadways.FURTHERCONSIDERATIONSFurther stock ofsalt/grit could beorganised and/ormaintenanceundertaken onwater or heatingsystems to ensurethey continue towork effectively.Communication to parents, Boards is vital.(b)Generic Risk Assessment – Severe weather - Ice/SnowYou may now consider the following activities to complete the risk assessmentusing the generic risk assessment and the guidance in the previous sections.The list is not exhaustive and can be added to when taking into account otherschool specific issues and activities.
(c)Risk Assessment TemplateACTIVITY HAZARD PERSONS WHO MAYBE AT RISKTravel/transportto/from schoolCONTROLS INPLACEFURTHERCONSIDERATION FORIMPLEMENTATIONAccess withinthe schoolSupervision ofactivitiesHeating andWelfareFacilitiesMaintenance ofschool premises
STEP 4 – KEY WEBSITES AND CONTACTSNI Met Office www.metoffice.gov.ukNI Roads Service www.roadsni.gov.ukNI Water www.niwater.comPolice Service forNorthern Ireland0845 600 8000 www.psni.police.ukNI Fire and RescueServiceInsert your local contactwww.nifrs.orgEducation and LibraryBoardBelfastGerry McGuinnessWesternMichelle McSwigganNorth EasternLiz WisemanSouth EasternPat O’ConnorSouthernBrenda Bradygerrym@belb.co.ukTel: 02890 email@example.comTel: 02882 firstname.lastname@example.orgTel: 02825 email@example.comTel: 02890 566200 Ext 6275Brenda.firstname.lastname@example.orgTel: 02837 512200
TYPES OF SCHOOL CLOSUREAnnex 2Optional DaysSchools are required to be in operation for 200 days per year while full-time teachersare required to be available for work on 195 days. The difference between 200 and 195are called Optional Days.The 5 optional days may be taken as occasional closings during school terms, or as anextension to the Easter, Christmas or summer holiday periods, according to thecircumstances of individual schools.However, optional days are also intended to cover a school having to close during theyear in special circumstances such as:• the death of a person connected with the school (other than a teacher or pupil); or• a planned specific event, for example, the need to move premises, the start ofbuilding work, a Church holiday etc.Training Days (known as “Baker Days”)Of the 195 days that full-time teachers are required to be available for work, no morethan 190 of these days should involve teaching children in a classroom situation. Theremaining 5 “Baker” days are used for training purposes.School Development Days (SDDs)Schools may avail of School Development Days (SDDs) during the school year. SDDsprovide additional non-contact time to devote to school improvement and schooldevelopment matters. It is expected that SDDs will be used for school/staffdevelopment work taking place during the hours of the normal school day. The numberof such days available to schools is notified by way of a separate DE Circular – thecurrent Circular (2010/5) allows schools up to 5 SDDs each year for the period 2010/11to 2014/15.Depending on the number of SDDs schools avail of, they can therefore be in operationfor pupils for between 185 and 190 each year.Exceptional Closure DaysExceptional Closures require approval from the Department of Education, to allow aschool to reduce the number of days on which it is operational to below 200. Where theclosure is foreseen or planned - for example, if a school is to be used as a pollingstation, or will be undergoing building work - schools will be able to apply for advanceapproval to close. However, where the closure is unforeseen - for example, in periodsof extreme weather - such approval will be sought retrospectively.17
If approval is given for Exceptional Closure a school’s entitlement to Optional, Training(“Baker”) and School Development Days is not affected.Exceptional Closures will only be approved when the closing of a school is outside thecontrol of the school authorities, for example, due to: -• the death of a teacher or pupil at the school;• flooding or burst pipes;• electricity failure;• an exceptionally heavy snowfall; or• use as a polling station for parliamentary/local government elections.Do schools have to compensate for exceptional closures?Schools do not have to make up days that have been approved for “exceptional” closureby the Department. However, individual schools may in consultation with staff makealternative arrangements to recover lost teaching time. For example, where schoolshave planned to take their full 5 School Development Days, they may cancel untakendays and open as normal to pupils instead.18