The tabloid press churn out ‘The Beast from the East’ once more, gritting lorries are prepared for the 3am shift and through the length of the nation thousands of Headteachers look anxiously at the forecast and at the leaden skies and pray that the creaking boiler holds out at least until the end of the budget year. Meanwhile children await the ping on their parents’ phones that the school is closed and the mythical ‘Snow Day’ at last becomes a reality.
However, where does that leave our teachers, teaching assistants and other staff? Whilst the idea of a snow day and an unexpected day out will be celebrated for many, for others it is a time of dread and anxiety.
During the last few mild winters closures have been rare in the South East of England, though earlier this winter closures hit the Midlands, the North of England and Scotland. A glance through teacher social media reveals a range of school responses; some close completely whilst others remain open for staff.
This is where stresses and anxieties can be heightened. Are you in a school where there is an expectation that staff must make every effort to arrive, regardless of weather conditions? Closures are usually there for the safety of the children, but how about the safety of the staff? In one of our former schools we once had two members of staff lose control of their cars on the same day on same patch of black ice mere yards from the school. Both were written off. Both staff had been asked to come to school because they lived nearby, though not close enough to walk.
Then we have the ‘work from home’ expectation. In another case we have been made aware of, one member of staff had a day’s pay docked being snowed into the village where they lived, yet another on SLT escaped without penalty. In this case the snow was unexpected and the class teacher had not taken work home the previous day. We have seen more arguments over snow closures than many other school issues.
Freezing weather brings other concerns too. Chionophobia is the extreme dislike or fear of snow. The word originates from Greek chion meaning snow and phobos meaning fear, aversion or dread. It is a real fear, often with causes going back to childhood memories of being injured by an icy snowball or a hard fall on a slippery surface. Driving on untreated roads can heighten this anxiety.
Snow is a political ‘hot potato’ in school and something for school leaders to be aware of particularly in regard to the mental wellbeing of our staff. While a time of great joy, exploration and an opportunity to see if the skeleton bob is for you for others it is an occasion of fear, stress and anxiety, particularly with the pressure to come to school or work from home.
Good leadership will already have considered alternatives for this week, rearranging meetings, trips, plays or assemblies, for the safety and mental wellbeing of their staff. An unhindered week is not a realistic expectation.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!