School Opening/ Closure Arrangements - Belfast Education ...

School Opening/ Closure Arrangements - Belfast Education ...

Introduction1. The severe weather conditions in Northern Ireland in November andDecember 2010 resulted in an unprecedented number of schoolshaving to close. The resulting queries from schools, parents andthe media highlighted a considerable degree of confusion andmisunderstanding over the legal requirements governing the numberof days that schools must be in operation: the different types ofschool closure; the arrangements for reporting closures; and thearrangements for notifying parents.2. As a result, the Department of Education established a WorkingGroup on School Opening/Closure Arrangements to explore how thelegislative and other arrangements governing school days of operationand closures might be better explained and communicated to schools,parents and the wider public. This report contains the findings of theGroup.3. The Group was chaired by Stanley Poots, MBE, Principal of DromaraPrimary School, and included representatives from the Primary,Post‐Primary, Special and Irish Medium sectors, the Education andLibrary Boards (ELBs), the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools(CCMS), Trade Unions and NI Direct. The Department of Educationand the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) attended asobservers. The Department also provided the secretariat to the Group.Full details of members can be found at Annex 1 to this report.4. The Group met on 3 occasions.Terms of Reference5. The terms of reference set by the Department of Education areprovided below:Terms of Reference:Working within existing legislative requirements governing the numberof days during which schools must be in operation and teaching pupilsin classrooms, to provide recommendations to DE on how the2

Collation of Material to Inform the Work of the Group13. The work of the Group was informed by the following:a. Reports received from each of the Education and Library Boardsdetailing information on the reasons for school closures and theactions that the Boards can take to minimise future disruption toschools.b. Replies received from each of the Education and Library Boardsand CCMS to a request from the Department to review theirresponse to the severe weather experienced in December toJanuary 2010-11. Reports from the Education and Library Boardsindicated that emergency planning arrangements had operatedextremely well. The vigilance and actions of school Principals,school building supervisors and Board maintenance teams madean immense contribution to ensuring that only a small numberof schools across the estate remained unable to open followingthe Christmas break. However, with over 300 school propertiesaffected by frozen and burst water pipes, the Department and theEducation and Library Boards examined the lessons learned froman estate perspective and will report separately.c. A meeting with the Health and Safety Officers within theEducation and Library Boards.d. A meeting with C2k and NI Direct to discuss the possibility of aservice-wide texting service being made available to all schoolsthrough C2k.Findings of the Working Group14. We consider that the procedures in place during the severe weather inNovember and December 2010 had, in general, worked very well giventhe extreme circumstances in which everyone was operating. There is,however, no reason to be complacent, and the Group was establishedto investigate how procedures might be improved. The key issues inour terms of reference are the recognition of the central role of thePrincipal in deciding whether closure is necessary, and the need5

to communicate with parents and others if closure is decided on. Weconsidered them under the following headings.a. How to support Principals in decisions to close, and to provide abasis for consistency in their decision-making.b. How the requirements of Health and Safety can be assessed andmet.c. The need for clarity about the different types of closure availableto schools.d. The need for consistency of treatment of staff (teaching andnon‐teaching) during periods of exceptional closure.e. How to establish effective and well-understood communicationarrangements between schools and relevant people andorganisations.They are discussed in more detail below.Supporting school Principals15. We welcome the recognition within the Department of Education thatdecisions on whether it was necessary to close a school could only bemade by Principals, or their nominated representative “on the ground”,as having the local knowledge and experience to assess the situationin their own schools. While we also welcome the clear support shownfor Principals in reaching a judgement on whether to close or remainopen, we feel that further action is needed to ensure that Principals areassisted and supported in making such decisions.16. Principals need to be confident that their judgements and ultimatelytheir decisions will be respected. In turn, parents need to be informedabout, and have confidence in, the decision-making process.17. Principals need information on the factors they should consider inmaking a timely and informed decision about a school closure. Thekey factors include:vhealth and safety requirements;6

vPTRs;vweather conditions and forecasts*;vroad conditions*; andvtransport availability*.* These should be assessed not just in the locality of the school butalso in the areas from which pupils and teachers have to travel.18. We therefore drew up the brief checklist for Principals attached atAnnex 2. It is supplemented by Severe Weather Safety Guidelines forSchools (Annex 3) and a note on school days of operation and closures(Annex 4). We recommend that:a. DE arranges to issue this checklist to all schools and keepsit under review; andb. Principals use this checklist when they are consideringwhether to close their schools.Annexes 2-4 represent both a comprehensive source of informationfor Principals when deciding whether to close their schools, and ameans of ensuring that, as far as possible, the decisions they makeare based on a common approach and a common set of considerationsand criteria. As a result, decisions by Principals facing similarcircumstances will have a consistency which is sometimes perceivedto be lacking at the moment. For ease of reference the checklistand supporting Annexes should be placed on education partnerwebsites. Annex 4 makes it clear that schools are not required tomake up days lost due to exceptional closure but explains that theremay be cases where a school wishes, in consultation with staff, tomake up lost teaching time.19. It is important that decisions are made as far in advance of closureas possible – the night before closure if circumstances allow - andthat parents are informed quickly. While it may not be possible forPrincipals to make such a decision the night before, going throughthe checklist will help to focus on the key issues to be considered andenable them to come to a decision as early as possible. Decisions7

the night before can only be taken when all the indications (weatherforecasts, current situation regards roads/transport, etc) are thatadverse conditions will continue overnight. If there are doubts,Principals should defer decisions until early morning.Health and Safety20. Health and safety is usually the main driver of any decision. We knowthat decisions to close schools were sometimes unpopular, but thehealth and safety of both pupils and staff was overwhelmingly the keyelement in those decisions. Principals had to consider not only gettingpupils and staff into school, but also keeping them safe when theywere there and getting them out again should an emergency arise.21. The likely PTR is also a key issue when determining in advance if aschool can remain open. Schools should include viability criteria forPTR within their emergency plans each year, and the need for earlyconsideration of PTR viability should be reflected in the checklist.22. We recognise that there are additional health and safety issues tobe taken into account by schools which have pupils with learningdifficulties and disabilities. Wheelchair access and emergency exitshave to be kept clear, and the ability of emergency services to reachthe school quickly must be taken into account when consideringclosure.23. To inform the way forward in relation to health and safety, the Chair ofthe Group and Department representatives met Education and LibraryBoard Health and Safety (H&S) Officers. As a follow-up to this meetingthe Boards’ H&S Officers prepared safety guidelines for schools whenconsidering closure due to severe weather. These are attached asAnnex 3.24. We recommend schools should consider the Health and Safetyguidelines during the first term, before the onset of adverseweather and put in place an appropriate action plan. Assistancecan be sought from Health and Safety personnel within the Educationand Library Boards.8

The need for clarity about the different types of closure available toschools25. A brief questionnaire prepared and issued by the Chair to primaryschools in the Lisburn area highlighted that a majority of schools wereaware of the various types of school closure and the legal positionin relation to them. However, we understand that the period ofexceptional closures during November and December 2010 raisedthe issue of whether there was a need to make up days lost throughexceptional closure.26. We have therefore included, as Annex 4, a brief summary:a. clarifying the number of days schools are required to be inoperation in a school year;b. explaining the various types of school closure; andc. noting the position on making up lost days.The need for consistency of treatment of staff (teaching andnon‐teaching)27. Although outside our remit, the issue of inconsistency of treatmentamong and between teaching and non-teaching staff was raised byTrade Union colleagues as a concern. In schools equally affectedby bad weather, some teachers were told to report for work whileothers were told to stay at home. The instructions did not appear totake account of the length or difficulty of the journey involved. Thissometimes created tension between schools in similar circumstances.The Unions also reported inconsistencies in payment arrangementsfor substitute teachers. They were asked to forward details of theirconcerns to the Department.Communication28. The communication of the details of closures to relevant parties washighlighted by the Group as a vital issue for schools. We noted thatthe need to improve communication was identified by each of the9

Education and Library Boards in its review of procedures during theadverse weather. We recommend that the Education and LibraryBoards establish a communications Group comprising theircommunications officers to co-ordinate more effectively theBoards’ responses to emergencies of a regional nature.29. In the paragraphs below we consider communication under thefollowing headings: schools and parents; schools and staff; schoolsand transport services; schools and education partners; informing thepublic.Communication – schools and parents30. The Group recommends that, at the start of each school year,and in consultation with parents, schools should decide onthe communication method or methods that best suit parents’needs and resources. Schools should then ensure that allparents and staff clearly understand the communicationmethod(s) that will be used in the case of closure. It will also beimportant for schools to be as helpful as possible to parents and to tryto maintain contact by sending updates on the current situation at theschool.31. While recognising that it is a matter for each school to determine itsown communication strategy, we have identified the following mainoptions for communication.a. Mobile texting servicesi. Some schools already have in place a system for textingparents to inform them about a school closure. Whilenot all parents have mobile phones, Principals on theGroup suggested that such a service could contact 90% ofparents. We consider this to be a very effective means ofcommunication as parents can be notified of a closure justafter the decision is taken. Parents can also be kept informedas necessary by this method. We acknowledge that thisshould not be the only method of communication, but it isone that all schools should consider using.10

ii.We met C2k and NI Direct staff to discuss the possibility ofprocuring a mobile texting service from Principal to parentsprovided through the C2k service. The C2k procurementcurrently underway may allow for the inclusion of such aservice, but that will not be clear until the full scope of thecontract is agreed later this year. Such a service wouldallow for quality information to be fed quickly to parents andorganisations across a range of communication channels.iii.We recommend that the Department of Educationshould consider the possibility of a service-widemobile texting service being made available to allschools through C2k, as well as consideration of otherviable options to improve communication betweenschools and parents.b. The media – television, regional and local radioWe recognise that the public service broadcasting role of theBBC was particularly helpful. Through this service, schools couldemail the BBC with details of their closure and the informationprovided was uploaded to a BBC web page and the BBC Ceefaxsystem. Principals were provided with a password to use whennotifying the BBC as an assurance that the information beingreceived was genuine. However, the sheer volume of closures,combined with some problems relating to passwords and accurateschool information, meant that there were delays in uploading theinformation at the speed required to maintain an up-to-date list.c. Emailing servicesThis is a limited means of communication as not all parents haveeasy access to the internet/email.d. Other means of communicationSchools should also consider supplementary means ofcommunication such as messages left on the school answeringmachine or on the school’s website.11

32. Communication via text or email will require schools to have in placean appropriate procedure for ensuring parents’ contact details arereviewed and updated on a regular basis. Where one or both of theseoptions are chosen, schools should inform parents as part of their fairprocessing procedures under data protection rules that their personaldata held by the school will be used for this purpose.Communication – schools and staff33. We recognise that communication is not the sole responsibility of thePrincipal – staff also need to keep their Principal informed of theirown circumstances. This is critical to inform the Principal of theprobable PTR. Teachers often travel long distances to school and goodcommunication is vital to avoid any misunderstanding as to whetherschools are open or closed. Schools need to ensure that they haveappropriate arrangements in place to allow two way communicationbetween Principals and their staff in exceptional circumstances.Temporary staff should also be included in such arrangements.Communication – schools and transport services34. The adverse weather demonstrated that there is a need for effectivecommunication between schools and transport services, and thattransport services face the same problems in such conditions aseveryone else. We were informed that Translink has in place severeweather guidelines for drivers and management, and that it operatesa safety management system in case of major incidents. WELB,which has a high proportion of rural schools, has informed us that ithad a very positive relationship with Translink during the periods ofextreme weather in 2010 and that lines of communication had beeneffective. We are advised that Translink has expressed an interest inmeeting the Boards to discuss potential transport difficulties. Such ameeting would be a good opportunity to formulate plans to minimisefuture disruption. We recommend that the Education and LibraryBoards should take up the offer of a meeting with Translink,and consider agreement on the protocols to be put in placeduring periods of severe weather, ie, who within transportproviders’ hierarchies may determine whether a particularservice is provided or not.12

Communication - schools and education partners35. If the mobile texting service recommended at 31 a.iii. is putin place then, from the NI Direct website perspective, once aclosure is reported there would be an opportunity to look at howthe information could be shared online with the media and otherinterested parties including the Education and Library Boards, theDepartment of Education and CCMS. Linked to the mobile textingservice recommendation, we recommend that the Departmentof Education should consider the use of the NI Direct platformto assist schools in their communications with the media andother interested organisations.Communication – informing the public36. The wider public has an interest in knowing about the decision-makingprocess which is undertaken by school Principals and in understandingthat a decision to close a school is not taken lightly.37. We recommend that a leaflet for parents should be prepared bythe Department of Education explaining the decision-makingprocess and outlining the health and safety issues that need tobe considered by school Principals in deciding to close a school.This leaflet will be distributed to parents by schools.38. We recommend that the parents’ leaflet should be proactivelypromoted and published on the following websites:Department of Education; the Education and Library Boards; NIDirect; and schools.Next Steps39. We recommend that the Department of Education shoulddevelop a plan setting out actions to be taken to address therecommendations in this report and the Group’s report shouldbe placed on the Department’s website. The action plan shouldbe considered along with the recommendations from theestate-based work commissioned by the Department, whichsummarised lessons learned from across the education estateand highlighted areas where improvements might be made.13

Summary of Recommendations40. This section contains a summary of the recommendations for schools,Boards and the Department (detailed in the order in which they arepresented within the report):i. Principals need information on the factors they shouldconsider in making a timely and informed decision about aschool closure. We recommend that the Department issuesthe checklist at Annexes 2-4 of this report to all schools andkeeps it under review. We also recommend that Principalsuse the checklist when they are considering whetheror not to close their school. For ease of reference thechecklist should be placed on education partner websites.(Paragraph 18a. and b.)ii.Health and Safety Guidelines (Annex 3) have been drawn upby ELB Health & Safety Officers. Schools should considerthe guidelines during the first term, before the onset ofadverse weather, and put in place an appropriate actionplan. (Paragraph 24)iii.We recommend that the Education and Library Boardsestablish a communications Group comprising theircommunications officers to co-ordinate more effectivelythe Boards’ responses to emergencies of a regional nature.(Paragraph 28)iv.We recommend that, at the start of each school year, andin consultation with parents, schools should decide on thecommunication method or methods that best suit parents’needs and resources. Schools should then ensure that allparents and staff clearly understand the communicationmethod(s) that will be used in the case of closure.(Paragraph 30)14

v. We recommend that the Department of Education shouldconsider the possibility of a service-wide mobile textingservice being made available to all schools throughC2k, as well as consideration of other viable options toimprove communication between schools and parents.(Paragraph 31a.iii.)vi.We recommend that the Education and Library Boards shouldtake up the offer of a meeting with Translink, and consideragreement on the protocols to be put in place during periodsof severe weather, ie, who within transport providers’hierarchies may determine whether a particular service isprovided or not. (Paragraph 34)vii. We recommend that the Department of Education shouldconsider the use of the NI Direct platform to assist schoolsin their communications with the media and other interestedorganisations. (Paragraph 35)viii. We recommend that a leaflet for parents should beprepared by the Department of Education explaining thedecision‐making process and outlining the health and safetyissues that need to be considered by school Principals indeciding to close a school. This leaflet will be distributed toparents by schools. (Paragraph 37)ix.We recommend that the parents’ leaflet should beproactively promoted and published on the followingwebsites: Department of Education; the Education andLibrary Boards; NI Direct; and schools. (Paragraph 38)41. We recommend that the Department of Education should develop aplan setting out actions to be taken to address the recommendationsin this report and the Group’s report should be placed on theDepartment’s website. The action plan should be considered alongwith the recommendations from the estate-based work commissionedby the Department, which summarised lessons learned from across theeducation estate and highlighted areas where improvements might bemade. (Paragraph 39)15

Conclusion42. The Group hopes that acceptance and implementation of therecommendations in this report will result in a more transparentand effective approach being taken in relation to school closuresin the future. We also hope that those within and outside theeducation system will be more understanding of how such decisionsare taken, and that this in turn will give due recognition of the roleand responsibilities of Principals and improve confidence in thedecision‐making process.16

Annex 1Members of the Working Group on School Closure/OpeningArrangementsStanley Poots MBE, Principal of Dromara Primary School (Chair)Colm Davis, Principal of Tor Bank Special SchoolAvril Hall-Callaghan, UTUDooley Harte, NIPSAGerry Lundy, CCMSCate Magee, Principal of St Patrick’s College, BallymenaMark McLaughlin, NI DirectStephanie Murphy, Western Education and Library BoardMaire Ni Dhochartaigh, C Na GSeamus Searson, NASUWTIn attendancePeter Geoghegan, Education and Training Inspectorate (Observer)Sharon Lawlor, Department of EducationSecretariatHelen McConkeyHeather McCullough17

Annex 2Exceptional Closures – Working Group’s Checklist forPrincipalsAn exceptional closure is unplanned, and is due to unforeseencircumstances such as adverse weather conditions, power failure, orsituations which affect the safety of pupils and staff. Exceptional closuresrequire approval from the Department of Education to allow a school toreduce its operational days below the 200 required by legislation.It is important that each school should put in place (and subsequentlyreview) an action plan during the first term of each school year, before theonset of adverse weather. In doing so, it should consider the Health andSafety guidelines at Annex 3. Assistance can be sought from Health andSafety personnel within the Education and Library Boards.In times of extreme weather, such as a heavy snowfall, Principals shouldconsider this checklist as far in advance of closure as possible – the nightbefore closure if circumstances allow - and, if necessary, decide to closethe school the next day. This will allow early communication with parentsand staff and ensure that parents are informed quickly. While it may notbe possible for Principals to make such a decision the night before, goingthrough the checklist will help to focus on the key issues to be consideredand enable them to come to a decision as early as possible. Decisions thenight before can only be taken when all the indications are that adverseconditions will continue overnight. If there are doubts, Principals shoulddefer decisions until early morning.Local conditions will determine the decision of the Principal (or an agreeddeputy such as the Chairman of the Board of Governors or a seniorteacher), who will consider a number of agreed criteria for closure.Decisions taken must be applicable to each individual school – not based onneighbouring schools whose conditions may differ.19

Issues to considerThe following should be considered in coming to any decision to close forexceptional reasons. The headline items listed below are dealt with in moredetail in Annex 3.vHealth and safety questions, including:sssscan 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 theschool?is the area designated for disembarkation from transportsafe for pupils?vTransport – can buses, meal deliveries, etc., reach the school,particularly if the unforeseen circumstances affect a largeproportion of pupils?vIf a limited number of staff and pupils can attend, is the PTRacceptable? An indication of the acceptable PTR should beincluded in the school’s emergency plans for such events.vHave local weather forecasts and road conditions, including thosefor areas from which staff will be travelling, been considered?If a decision is made to closeCommunicationvSchools should have in place an agreed plan on communication,not only to advise parents and staff, and keep them informed,but also to advise the relevant Education and Library Board,the Department of Education, and CCMS if appropriate. TheDepartment’s school reference number should be quoted in allcorrespondence. (See Step 4 of Annex 3 for relevant contactdetails for Boards, the Department and CCMS.)20

vSuggested means of communication include use of a textingservice, informing the media (television and/or radio), email, ortelephone (either calls or a recorded message.)vParents must be aware of the means of communication that willbe used.vIf possible, update parents/staff at a later time in the day witha view to the “next day” so that all have time to make suitablefamily arrangements.vStaff should also be encouraged to keep the school updated ontheir position (2-way communication is vital).21

Annex 3Health and SafetySchools should consider the Health and Safety guidelines during the firstterm, before the onset of adverse weather and put in place an appropriateaction plan. Assistance can be sought from Health and Safety personnelwithin the Education and Library Boards.Overall responsibility for health and safety risk in schools lies with theemploying authority, ie ELBs for Controlled schools, CCMS for Maintainedschools etc. School Governors are responsible for the day to daymanagement of health and safety in a school. Risk is identified andcontrolled through Risk Assessment. School Governors and Principalsshould consult the guidance on Risk Assessment in the schools’ Healthand Safety Manual – A Manual for Principals and Governors. In addition tothis, a number of generic risk assessments and advice on completion areavailable 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.The responsibility for management of the premises rests with the Boardsof Governors of such schools as set out in Article 23 of the Scheme ofManagement of CCMS schools. CCMS does not have any dedicated healthand safety staff, but Board staff will advise maintained schools in their area,although there is no statutory requirement for them to do so.Voluntary Grammar, Irish Medium and Grant Maintained IntegratedSchoolsHealth and safety is entirely the responsibility of the school’s governingbody.23

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 relativelystraight forward process.This guidance is set out in order to assist the school Principal in decidingwhether it is safe to open and continue school during severe weather orwhether the school should close.The guidance is split into 4 key steps:Step 1 PreparationStep 2 Points to consider when deciding to open a schoolStep 3 Risk Assessment (this includes a blank risk assessmenttemplate for completion by the Principal)Step 4 Key websites and contacts24

Step 1 – PreparationThe following points require to be taken into account when preparing a plan to deal with a possible exceptionalclosure due to severe weather.Key Action Supplementary ActionsDoes the school have contact details for all parents/guardians,pupils and staff.v Are the contact details updated regularly.v Do they include Mobile Telephone numbers?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.v Set a minimum fuel level for a reorder of supply.v Check fuel level frequently during severe weather periods.Ensure that heating, lighting and water services are regularlymaintained.v Regularly report maintenance issues to the BoardMaintenance Help Desk.v Have the Boards Help desk/emergency on call officertelephone numbers availableMaintain sufficient supplies of salt for application to footpaths anddriveways.Where mechanical salt spreaders are utilized, are they functioningand available?v Order supplies before the onset of winter.v Have the salt suppliers’ telephone numbers available orfollow board procedure to reorder.Maintain stocks of Safety Signs and Hazard Warning Tapes forcordoning off hazardous areas.v Order supplies of Hazard tape (yellow/black or red/white).v Order signs which prohibit access to hazardous areas.25

Key Action Supplementary ActionsMaintain a system for communicating with Teachers, BuildingSupervisors, Maintenance Help Desk, Catering staff and othersupervisory staff. Also schools’ transport service.v Schools should have in place appropriate proceduresto ensure that the Principal and staff have an effectivemeans of 2-way communication to determine the level ofattendance.v Maintain contact details of the Boards’ School TransportService.Prepare a risk assessment which considers the foreseeable risks attimes of severe weather.v Use the Risk Assessment pro-forma set out in Section CStep 3 – Risk Assessment.v What parts of the school or routes are most susceptible tothe effects of severe weather.Avoiding Slips, Trips and Falls at access points into the schoolbuilding.v Maintain adequate supplies of mops and wet trip mats.v Increased vigilance from Building Supervisor/staff toensure points of access are kept in safe condition.v Use of warning cones/signs.Prepare and maintain local contact details for the followingservices:v Put each of these services’ websites on your favouritefolder in the web provider.v Meteorological Servicev NI Waterv Road Servicev Access the sites and become familiar with the layout andwhere to look for the appropriate information.v Refresh favourites regularly.v Rivers Agencyv NI Directv Education and Library Boardv CCMSv Department of Education26

Step 2 – Points to consider when deciding to open theschoolThe 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 whetherto open or close the school. They also form an integral part of the riskassessment process and will allow the Principal to prepare a school specificrisk assessment.First ConsiderationOther Consideration(s)Is the school buildingaccessible?Are there any areas withinthe school locality especiallyimpassable or dangerous intimes of extreme bad weather?Are vehicle routes into theschool grounds passable?vvvvvvvWhat are the forecasted long-term weatherconditions?Are there any Northern Ireland Met Officewarnings available?Consideration should be given to getting to andfrom the school. In the case of one-way trafficsystems, the route into school may be a lessergradient than the route away.There may be locations on the journey wheresnow/ice is known to cause early closure of roadsor rail.Alternative routes where possible should beidentified prior to extreme bad weather to helpthe traveller to decide their route.Is there means to improve access prior toteachers’ attendance, or attendance of schoolbuses, parent/carers’ vehicles, etc?Is parking possible outside the school groundsuntil remedial action has been taken to make thearea passable? If a main pedestrian route, insidethe school grounds, is through a vehicle parkingarea then vehicles should be excluded. Theremay be a need for signage to this effect.27

First ConsiderationAre pedestrian routes on theschool grounds passable?Can the Principal gain enoughteaching and/or supervisorystaff to operate safely?Is the school appropriatelyheated?Are water systems workingappropriately? (Welfare)Can the level of heating bemaintained throughout theschool day/week?vvvvvvvvvvvvvvOther Consideration(s)Is there means to clear these routes, eg salt/grit?If required, can movement to various parts of theschool be limited without disruption – ensuringmaintenance is concerted to general accessroutes?Can priority be made in respect to slopes, stepsor ramps, or can these areas be restricted fromuse? Outside metal staircases should also beavoided unless appropriately treated.If open, vehicle parking areas should have apassable pedestrian route to access the school.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 belocal, with a greater expectancy of attendance.Schools in rural areas or Post Primary schoolsmay have pupils from a wider area and maybe more dependent on school buses or publictransport. Therefore numbers may be less – andsupervision easier.Are fuel supplies adequate?Have there been previous failures of the heatingsystem in autumn/winter months?Is the means for remedial action readilyavailable?Are there known faults in times of severeweather?Are there written records – ensuring methodicalchecks are made?At times of severe weather consider runningthe heating system during periods of closure orholidays.Is frost protection installed and utilised?28

First ConsiderationOther Consideration(s)Can people movement beminimised between schoolbuildings, if access and egressis made externally?vvIf pupil numbers are low, can classes be groupedtogether?Can these areas be cleared and maintained tolimit the restriction?Restriction of outside playwould limit the snow/ice frombecoming compacted, andtherefore more dangerous.vvvIf conditions are not dangerous outside play maybe possible. However supervision may have tobe higher.Could play or breaks be staggered to ensureappropriate supervisory levels?If any snow or ice is present prohibit running.Can the school grounds bemaintained to effect openingthe following day?vvPedestrian walkways should be a priority, overvehicle parking, but in the long term parkingareas inside the school should be treated, orcleared of snow. Persons who have parked in theschool grounds should be aware of the priorityand told to take care in this area. Signs could beplaced to remind these persons.Maintenance should be a priority wherepedestrian walkways also coincide with vehicleareas. Alternatively, restrictions could be madeon pedestrians, or cars stopped from enteringthat area.Monitor the weather situationlocally and through the media(Met Office).vvGovernment Agencies such as the Roads Servicemay be able to provide information regardingroad clearance, providing assurance of homejourneys, or return journeys the following day.Met Office provide flash weather warnings (seeMet Office website).29

First ConsiderationAre maintenance materials andpersonnel available to ensurethe school can eliminate,reduce or isolate riskthroughout the school day?vvvOther Consideration(s)Can similar provision be assured for the followingday(s)?Salt/grit spread on walkways or other areas atthe end of the day could limit icing. This couldalso prevent a further snowfall from taking afoothold and re-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 theinitial fall as surfaces may be uneven and moreslippery.30

Step 3 – Risk Assessmenta. 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 previoussteps should provide the Principal with an awareness of the risks involved.This level of awareness should also contribute to the Principal creating theirown risk assessment based upon the specific requirements of the school, itssize and the manageability of the issue.ActivityHazardPersonswho may beat riskControls requiredFurtherconsiderationsGetting to theDangerousPrincipal,vPrincipalRural inteachers,monitorsof school and/extremeBuildingweatheror majoritybad weatherSupervisorsconditions/of schoolconditions.and/orwarnings www.personnel.maintenancestaff, travel shouldbe consideredif extremebad weatherwarning andadvice given foronly essentialRegionalwarnings maynot be accurateat local level,so local mediabroadcasts mayalso help.journeys to beundertaken.31

ActivityHazardPersonswho may beat riskControls requiredFurtherconsiderationsTravel viaDangerousPrincipal,vPrior planningWalking mayknown areas oftravel inteachers,by staffbe reasonablyexpected roadextremeBuildingregardingexpected, whenclosure or steepbad weatherSupervisorsalternativecars or othergradients.conditions.and/or‘main road’vehicles cannotmaintenanceroutes, ormake it all thestaff.rail, to schoolway into Principalto consider whatis reasonablebased on localityand staff.Main entranceEntrance notPrincipal,vPark car outsideSignage on maininto schoolpossible.teachers,school untilentrance, orgrounds.Buildingclearance canother entrancesSupervisorsbe made. Ifif prohibitedand/ornot passablefrom entry duemaintenanceby foot,to ice or otherstaff.access otherobstruction.reasonablemeans into theschool.Main entranceEntrance anPrincipal,vClearance of slipIf entrance isinto schoolimmediateteachers,hazard, unlessused by bothgrounds.slip hazard.Buildingalternative routevehicles andSupervisorsfound.pedestrians,and/ormaintenancestaff, pupils,parents/carers andvisitors.vvOther routesmay beprioritised andcause closureof the mainentrance.Salt/grit may beadequate butsalting/grittingmay be apriority. Carsmay be stoppedfrom entry togive priority topedestrians andavoid risk.manual workmay also berequired to clearsnow/ice if thisis the main andonly entrance.32

ActivityHazardPersonswho may beat riskControls requiredFurtherconsiderationsGettingInadequateTeachers andvA means ofThe emphasisappropriatesupervisionpupils.communicatingshould be onmembers ofwith schoolhow to operatestaff to openstaff in order tosafely, notschool.establish theirwhether a fullattendanceand normalon the day ofcurriculum couldextreme badbe followed.vweather.A means tocommunicatewith school busservice, localauthority andlocal bus serviceoperatorsto establishpupil meansof getting toschool.Primary schoolpupils are likelyto be local,with a greaterexpectancy ofattendance.Schools inrural areasor secondaryschools havepupils from awider area andvPrincipal tomay be moreestablish whatdependent onwould constituteschool buses orappropriatepublic transport,supervision -thereforethroughnumbers maydynamicbe less – andassessmentsupervisionon the day ofeasier.extreme badweather.33

ActivityHazardPersonswho may beat riskControls requiredFurtherconsiderationsHeatingCold – belowPrincipal,vConstantIf the schooland Welfarepermittedteachers,heatingpremises levelBuildingthroughoutbe heated(16º C/Supervisorsperiods ofor provision60.8º F).and/orknown coldof water forNo sanitarymaintenancesnaps tosanitary use oror drinkingstaff,prevent frozendrinking made withinand pupils.vMaintenance ofwater systems,for exampleprompt repair ofschool hoursthen the schoolmay have toclose.leaks and drips.vRegularmaintenancestaff checks toensure heatingand watersystems areworking well.Keeping theSlips, trips orPupils andvNo use of yardsCertain areasschool open.falls of pupilsSupervisoryand othercould beat break-Assistants.external areas,cordoned offtime.when snow/iceand managedcannot be easilythrough salting/removed orgritting releasing forvIf there areexternal areasfree or generallyfree of snow/ice, supervisedplay/break canuse. Meltedsnow/ice canrefreeze socontinuedattention may undertaken.vThe supervisionlevel shouldbe higherand runningprohibited.34

ActivityHazardPersonswho may beat riskControls requiredFurtherconsiderationsKeeping thevAny areasIf yard spaceschool openof snow/iceis restricted(contd).remainingthen staggeredshould bebreaks couldavoided andbe undertaken.managed.However couldvPupils shouldbe informed ofrestrictions.this system beappropriatelysupervised?Keeping theFurtherPrincipal,vPrincipalFurther stock ofschool open.snow or ice,teachers,to monitorsalt/grit could beor icing ofBuildingthe weatherorganised and/previous fall.Supervisorsconditionsor maintenanceand/orthrough the MetundertakenmaintenanceOffice and localon water orstaff, andmedia.heating systemspupils.vInformation mayalso be gainedfrom the ensure theycontinue to workeffectively.vFurther salt/gritcould be usedon walkwaysand other areasto minimise forthe next day.vSurface watercould bebrushed todrains to avoidicing up overnight.vMaintainwalkways andkey roadways.Communication to parents, Boards is vital.35

. Generic Risk Assessment – Severe weather - Ice/SnowYou may now consider the following activities to complete the riskassessment using the generic risk assessment and the guidance in theprevious sections. The list is not exhaustive and can be added to whentaking into account other school specific issues and activities.36

c. Risk Assessment TemplateActivity Hazard Persons who may be atRiskTravel/transport to/from schoolAccess within theschoolSupervision ofactivitiesHeating and WelfareFacilitiesMaintenance ofschool premisesControls in Place Further Consideration forImplementation37

Step 4 – Key Websites and ContactsNI Met Office Met Office Roads Service www.niwater.comNI WaterPolice Service forNorthern Ireland0845 600 8000 www.psni.police.ukNI Fire and Rescue Service Insert your local contact www.nifrs.orgEducation and Library Board BelfastGerry McGuinness 02890 564026Michelle McSwiggan michelle.mcswiggan@welbni.orgNorth EasternTel: 02882 411411Hilary Spence EasternTel: 02825 662296Pat O’Connor 02890 566200 Ext 6275Brenda Brady Brenda.brady@selb.orgTel: 02837 51220038

Organisation Name of Contacts Contact Details WebsiteDepartment of Education Curriculum Support Team 02891 279533Council for Catholic MaintainedSchools (CCMS)Alison Russell www.onlineccms.comTel: 02890 393880NI Rivers Agency

Annex 4Types of School ClosureOptional DaysSchools are required to be in operation for 200 days per year while full-timeteachers are required to be available for work on 195 days. The differencebetween 200 and 195 are called Optional Days.The 5 optional days may be taken as occasional closings during schoolterms, or as an extension to the Easter, Christmas or summer holidayperiods, according to the circumstances of individual schools.However, optional days are also intended to cover a school having to closeduring the year in special circumstances such as:vthe death of a person connected with the school (other than ateacher or pupil); orva planned specific event, for example, the need to movepremises, the start of building work, a Church holiday etc.Training Days (known as “Baker Days”)Of the 195 days that full-time teachers are required to be available forwork, no more than 190 of these days should involve teaching children ina classroom situation. The remaining 5 “Baker” days are used for trainingpurposes.School Development Days (SDDs)Schools may avail of School Development Days (SDDs) during the schoolyear. SDDs provide additional non-contact time to devote to schoolimprovement and school development matters. It is expected that SDDswill be used for school/staff development work taking place during the hoursof the normal school day. The number of such days available to schools isnotified by way of a separate DE Circular – the current Circular (2010/5)allows schools up to 5 SDDs each year for the period 2010/11 to 2014/15.41

Depending on the number of SDDs schools avail of, they can therefore be inoperation for pupils for between 185 and 190 each year.Exceptional Closure DaysExceptional Closures require approval from the Department of Education,to allow a school to reduce the number of days on which it is operationalto below 200. Where the closure is foreseen or planned - for example, ifa school is to be used as a polling station, or will be undergoing buildingwork - schools will be able to apply for advance approval to close. However,where the closure is unforeseen - for example, in periods of extremeweather - such approval will be sought retrospectively.If approval is given for Exceptional Closure a school’s entitlement toOptional, Training (“Baker”) and School Development Days is not affected.Exceptional Closures will only be approved when the closing of a school isoutside the control of the school authorities, for example, due to:vthe death of a teacher or pupil at the school;vflooding or burst pipes;velectricity failure;van exceptionally heavy snowfall; orvuse as a polling station for parliamentary/local governmentelections.Do schools have to compensate for exceptional closures?Schools do not have to make up days that have been approved for“exceptional” closure by the Department. However, individual schools mayin consultation with staff make alternative arrangements to recover lostteaching time. For example, where schools have planned to take their full5 School Development Days, they may cancel untaken days and open asnormal to pupils instead.42

Department of EducationRathgael House43 Balloo RoadRathgillBANGORCo DownBT19 7PR

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