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Headteachers in clear over snow closures

PUBLISHED: 09:14 08 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:58 30 June 2010

A probe into the controversial closure of hundreds of Norfolk schools during January's snow has cleared the county's headteachers of any blame.

The investigation into the controversy, which saw 382 out of 440 schools closed on January 7 and 355 on January 8, said heads did “not take decisions lightly”.

A probe into the controversial closure of hundreds of Norfolk schools during January's snow has cleared the county's headteachers of any blame.

The investigation into the controversy, which saw 382 out of 440 schools closed on January 7 and 355 on January 8, said heads did “not take decisions lightly”.

But the Norfolk County Council report admitted local authority notes to schools should have a “more positive emphasis on keeping schools open rather than on how to close them”.

And it has reissued guidance on school closures, amid concerns that heads take “extreme” views - with some “very worried about health and safety” and others “trying everything possible to stay open”.

The mass shutdown came as Norfolk was blanketed in its most significant enduring spell of snow for decades.

Critics claimed heads and their staff did not do enough to keep schools open, while others said it was important to put safety first.

The heated debate prompted the council to launch an investigation, the results of which will be debated by the children's services overview and scrutiny panel at County Hall on Thursday at 2pm.

A report into the probe has been published ahead of the meeting.

It said the decision on whether or not to close weighed heavily on headteachers”, and added: “Headteachers do seem to take this decision very seriously.”

But the report concluded that many schools did not have a detailed risk assessment process linked to a business continuity plan, leaving heads to weigh up “complex” information, often in the early hours.

It added that some heads were concerned that they would be penalised by Ofsted for poor attendance rates if they stayed open with a reduced number of students.

In reissued guidance attached to the report, the council said “too much credence” was given to the fears.

The guidance advised schools to produce a “short, clear statement” to give to governors and inspectors to “explain any significant impact on attendance from adverse weather”.

The size of the issue was illustrated by the number of visitors to the council's website, which usually gets 11,000 visitors each day.

On the worst day of snow, January 7, there were 130,231 visits to the school closures page alone.

t To read Steve Downes's blog on this issue, visit www.edp24.co.uk/steve-downes.

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