Thursday, 21 January 2010

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Thursday, 14 January 2010

Snow and the Interfering State

School was open today and weather forecasters are predicting a big thaw over the weekend. Now I’m starting to panic how I will cope next week without my “snow day”. Despite my objections to the principles, I’ve got used to our days off. It's become a treat to be protected by the muffler of snow from the normal requirements to chase and chivvy and frantically dash to school. The twilight, ethereal, glowing world of snow has become a sanctuary where we can enjoy being at home and catch up with ourselves.

Joking apart, my whole point in these last few postings has been to highlight the bigger issues behind the decision to close schools. With this in mind I thought this article in The Sunday Times was interesting. Jenni Russell discusses how the state has interfered in our lives to such an extent because Labour don’t trust us to make our own decisions. This goes to the core of my problem with schools closing – we can’t be trusted to decide whether it's safe for us to get to school and there are endless petty health and safety rules strangling every practical decision. “By putting the state in the middle of everything, we’re destroying society” says a mother whose 15 year old son was forbidden to do work experience with a stockbroker in London because the council’s health and safety officer had to check all premises beforehand and he was not allowed to travel that far.

I appreciate that all these rules are supposed to be for our benefit, but they are actually counter-productive because, rather than protecting people in a practical and pragmatic way, they simply annoy and frustrate, turning people away from what would be sensible behaviour. I’m not launching into politics on this blog but I would love to see a government who can allow society to be responsible and stop marring our lives with petty and nonsensical regulations.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Living with Snow

Okay, so it's quite hard work getting children in and out of coats, hats, gloves and boots, but I'm quite enjoying living with snow. It's beautiful; cold and crisp, huge crystals glittering in the sunshine. We are finally experiencing the stereotypical images of winter that are usually only seen in Christmas cards and history books.

Maybe it's because I got used to this way of life when we lived in Kyrgyzstan where there can be snow for months. Schools stay open (unless it gets to minus 20) and roads are certainly never gritted, so everyone just gets on with it. Dilapidated Ladas, held together mostly by string, keep on sliding over ever thickening ice. Kyrgyz girls refuse to give up their fashion - stilettos. Watching them it occurred to me that this is actually quite sensible footwear for these conditions because the heels act like crampons in the snow and ice.

This morning our brilliant Sunday School was open - on the school site. Lots of people turned up, keen to keep life as normal as possible. We discussed schools closing - there's already talk of school closing tomorrow, even though the snow hasn't yet fallen. Twenty-four hour media, we decided, is part of the problem. They keep a story live, updating every hour, squeezing every detail from it - if I see one more report from a gritting depot I will scream! This means we are always on alert about something that we might just calmly get on with if not constantly bombarded by media hype.

It's also occurred to me that one of the saddest things about this whole schools closing issue is the reflection of our society. Schools close because there is a presumption that if someone falls over and hurts themselves in the playground, they will sue. That says more about the attitude of society as a whole, the blame culture we have created, than the actual decision to close schools.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

School is Opening!

Tonight I have been to book club - what joy it was to get out of the house and talk to adults! Inevitably, we discussed school closures. Someone made a point I wanted to share - that the fact schools close so easily is actually a sad indictment of society. It's because we've all become too litigious, too quick to cast blame and sue for any upset, that schools have become so anxious to limit risk.

On a positive note, T's school is open tomorrow! Starting later and requesting children take packed lunches. As my husband said, do they read this blog...?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Snow: Do we give up too easily?

During the snow in February 2009 I had a rant about how easily schools closed and how this sets a bad example to our children. “...What it says to them is that when things get tough we just give up...” I fear I must vent again!

This morning my 6 year old was crying because, at 7am, there had not been an announcement that his school was closed. There was snow so he assumed that school would close. This is the example he has been set so this is now what he expects. By 7.30 the inevitable announcement had been made.

I’ve just read on the website that the school will be closed again tomorrow and I am disappointed. This snow is not a surprise. We have had plenty of warning. Other people are managing to get around, with care. Why can’t teachers get to work? Why can’t a skeleton staff open up for those pupils who can get in? I know some will say there’s a health and safety risk, someone might fall in the playground etc – but these days there’s always a health and safety excuse if you want one.

Why did the school not spend today preparing, such as gritting the playground and surrounding pavements? Why can’t they show some initiative and be adaptable. For example, why not start later, to give people more time to get in? Why not ask pupils to bring packed lunch? To give up and close with so little effort sets a poor example of perseverance, something I discussed in more detail in my February 2009 post.

The media don’t help. The morning news was full of melodrama and drastic advice – “don’t take your journey unless it’s absolutely necessary...” Do they consider the responsibility of going to work absolutely necessary? With this being said on the news, it becomes too easy for everyone to absolve themselves from even trying.

Maybe I feel like this because I’ve lived in countries where people cope in snow much deeper than this for months at a time. Maybe I feel like this because my parents have always been self-employed so I’ve grown up with a strong work ethic and an understanding of what it means to be entirely responsible for your business, every day, whatever the circumstances. For us, today, work had to go on. We run day nurseries and all three were open – with full credit to our staff who made huge efforts to get in. We feel a duty to the parents to stay open so that they can go to work. Why can schools not show the same care? They close and this impacts on all the working parents.

I am very aware that many of these decisions are taken by the council rather that the schools. But it’s too easy for some distant civil servant to declare all schools closed without any thought about what this really means. I’m sure some of you will tell me that roads are treacherous and it’s irresponsible to be out. That may be so in some areas, but around here, things really aren’t that bad. Most of the pupils could walk to school - something that is endlessly discussed in assemblies when they are promoting the health and environmental benefits of walking to school!

I'm not entirely miserable, I can appreciate that it's wonderful to be able to spend the day pottering at home and playing in the snow, but I do believe there is a bigger issue and that the collective reaction to snow is unfortunate. Yes, there’s more effort involved when our world is covered in snow, but what is teaching all about? Why, as a society, do we not try and persevere through adversity any more?

Ps, in February 2009 I gave credit to our milkman, Dave, who didn’t miss a delivery. At 4am this morning, Dave was out in the snow leaving our milk by the gate. Well done Dave, and thank you!