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Severe weather: how to prepare
Make sure you know what to do if severe weather such as snow or flooding is on the horizon, including the decisions you'll need to make about closing the school and cancelling events or trips. Download our template risk assessment to support your decision-making.
Keep your school open if possible
You should keep your school open for as many children as possible during severe weather conditions like snow or flooding.
If you do need to close temporarily, do everything you can to reopen as soon as possible.
Possible options if staff are unable to get to school
Be flexible and consider:
- Bringing together groups and classes with teachers and support staff working together
- Using other school staff or volunteers to provide cover supervision or oversee alternative activities
- Re-arranging the curriculum
If bringing groups and classes together leads to infant classes having more than 30 pupils, this isn't a reason to close the school.
Mark pupils who are unable to get to school using the absence code ‘Y’
This makes sure their absence doesn't affect your school’s absence figures.
The information in this section comes from the Department for Education's (DfE's) guidance on emergency planning and response.
Decide if you need to close
As headteacher it's usually up to you to decide whether to close your school, possibly with the support of your governing board. Here's what to do:
- Complete a risk assessment before deciding whether to close – use it as evidence if you need to justify the decision (use our template below)
- Discuss the situation with your local authority (LA), as it'll be able to tell you about the situation of other schools in your local area
The DfE told us this.
Reasons you might decide to close your school
- There's an inadequate ratio of staff to pupils due to staff not being able to get in
- The school can't be heated properly because the heating fails
- There's risk of injury or parts of the school are inaccessible because conditions around the school are too severe, despite safety measures being in place
Download and complete our template risk assessment
Use and adapt our template risk assessment for severe weather to support you with:
- Identifying possible hazards and putting in place appropriate control measures
- Deciding whether you need to close your school in the event of severe weather
Complete the template before any severe weather arrives as well, so that you make sure you're prepared.
Keep parents updated at all times
If there’s a warning of severe weather approaching, make sure you put out a notice to parents to:
- Inform them of the severe weather warning
- Let them know you’ll make the decision on whether you’ll be closing the school as early as possible on the day
- Give them a time by when you'll make the decision
- Tell them how they'll find out (e.g. a message on your website)
You could put this notice
- On your school’s website
- In an email to parents
- In a hard copy letter which children take home
If you decide to close
Use your usual channels for communicating the message to parents (e.g. a message on your website).
Some parents may miss the message, so make sure there's a member of staff available on the site to inform anyone who arrives. Complete a risk assessment for this individual being outside in the severe weather - you can adapt our template above.
Be prepared if you need to close your school early during the day
Make sure you have procedures in place in case severe weather hits during the school day.
If you have a system for texting or emailing parents, use this to tell them you're closing the school early due to bad weather.
Alternatively, pupils could contact their parents themselves. It’s important that parents know about the closure and where their children are going.
It would be best for parents to give consent for you to send their child home, but take account of the context. Local authorities may have a policy on this, so if you're a maintained school, check for local guidance.
Whether you then send pupils home on their own or they're collected will also depend on the context. Use our risk assessment above to help you decide.
For example, primary-aged pupils are likely to need to be collected, while older secondary school pupils may be able to go home on their own.
Factors to consider when sending pupils home due to bad weather
- The age of pupils
- Whether they would be safe travelling home on their own
- Whether they can get into their homes on their own
- Normal transport to and from school. If pupils normally travel to and from school by bus, you’ll most likely need to wait for buses or parents to collect pupils, rather than sending them home
- You may need to make decisions on a pupil-by-pupil basis.
The advice in this section comes from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).
Examples of schools' approaches
At The Bramptons Primary School in Northamptonshire, if the headteacher decides to close the school early, the office will contact parents and ask them to pick their child up as soon as possible. A skeleton staff will remain in school until all pupils have been collected.
This is set out on page 2 of its adverse weather policy, which you can download from this webpage.
Cotham School, a secondary academy in the City of Bristol, says in its inclement weather policy that if bad weather begins during the day and might cause issues getting home, it will:
- Stay in touch with transport providers to check which services are running
- Notify all parents and carers by text message and put a message on its website if it makes the decision to close
You can download the policy from this webpage.
Have a look at more examples of severe weather policies from schools.
Decide if you need to cancel any events or trips
Complete a risk assessment
Use our template risk assessment above to help you decide whether to cancel a school event or trip.
It’s better for you to cancel an event than go ahead with it if there are significant risks which you can’t mitigate. This also applies to events which aren’t happening at the school, such as a visit to the theatre.
Let parents and pupils know as soon as possible
If you decide to cancel, make sure you communicate the decision to parents and pupils. Do this using the same strategies as you would for a school closure, giving a reasonable explanation.
If you’re able to postpone rather than cancel the event, you could also communicate the new date.
Be prepared in case you need to end an event early
Make sure you have procedures in place so you’re prepared if unexpected severe weather means you need to end an event early, including arrangements for:
- Contacting parents to let them know they need to pick up their children
- Your caretaker to grit the site if it’s become icy, if the event is happening at the school
Consider whether you’ll need to reimburse parents
You might have already collected money from parents for a planned trip for pupils, or for tickets to a school concert. You’ll therefore need to think about what you’re going to do about reimbursing parents following a cancellation.
If you can’t reclaim money you’ve already spent on things like coach bookings and theatre tickets, check your school’s insurance policy to see if you’re covered in these circumstances. If not, you’ll need to decide whether you can reimburse parents out of your school funds. Follow your school’s procedure for refunds, and seek independent legal advice if you need to.
You’ll need to balance concerns over your school’s finances with the possible damage to the school’s reputation and relationship with parents if you decide not to reimburse them.
The following experts helped us to write this article:
Trevor Bailey has extensive experience in school leadership and management. He was a secondary school headteacher for 14 years.
- David New, an education consultant, was the headteacher of a large secondary school for 9 years. He has particular expertise in lettings, staffing, academy conversion and the secondary curriculum.
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