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Severe weather: who is responsible for closing the school?

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Last updated on 28 February 2018
School types: All · School phases: All
In-depth article
It can be a difficult decision to close the school due to bad weather. Manage the process efficiently by reading the DfE's guidance on responding to poor weather, and use our template letter to explain the situation to parents.

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  1. 1 Headteachers decide
  2. 2 Pupils unable to get to school
  3. 3 Staff unable to get to school
  4. 4 Risk assessments: examples
  5. 5 Early school closure
  6. 6 KeyDoc: letter to parents following school closure

Headteachers decide

During severe weather conditions you should keep your school open for as many children as possible

A Department for Education (DfE) representative told us that the decision to close a school due to severe weather is made at a local level. It is usually the headteacher who will decide, with support from the governing board.

The decision should only be taken after you have completed a risk assessment. The risk assessment can serve as evidence should you need to justify the decision. We look at examples of risk assessments in the section of this article headed 'Risk assessments: examples'.

Headteachers should also discuss the decision with their local authority (LA), which will be able to refer to the situation of other schools in the local area.

The DfE explains further on the GOV.UK website:

During severe weather conditions, such as flooding or snow, you should keep your school or early years setting open for as many children as possible.
However, it might be necessary to close temporarily due to inaccessibility or risk of injury. You should do all you can to reopen as soon as possible.

If a school is affected by significant flooding it should contact the DfE directly.

Possible reasons for closing the school

Possible reasons for closing the school may include:

  • Inadequate ratio of staff to pupils due to staff being unable to get in
  • Heating failure meaning that the school can't be heated to an acceptable level
  • Conditions around school being too severe despite safety measures being put in place

Pupils unable to get to school

Pupils who are unable to get into school as a result of severe weather conditions should be marked in the register using the absence code ‘Y’. Marking a pupil absent in this way will ensure that his/her absence does not affect the school’s absence figures.

However, if you believe a child could have got to school, absence should be recorded as unauthorised using the absence code 'O'.

This is outlined in the DfE guidance linked to above.

Staff unable to get to school

Where teachers are unable to get to work due to poor weather conditions, you should 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 by bringing groups and classes together it leads to infant classes having more than 30 pupils, it is not a reason to close the school.

This is explained in the DfE guidance linked to in section 1.

Risk assessments: examples

Central Bedfordshire Council has guidance for its schools on coping with severe weather. It includes a generic risk assessment for snow and ice clearance. You can find this on pages 14 to 17 of the guidance.

Swindon Borough Council also has a severe weather risk assessment and checklist for its schools, in the appendix of its severe weather guidance. 

The document is called 'Severe weather guidance for schools' and can be found on Swindon Borough Council's website.

In another article from The Key, we link to examples of risk assessment templates.

Early school closure

We spoke to the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) about how to manage an early school closure due to bad weather.

ASCL said that if you have a system for texting or emailing parents, you should use this to communicate the closure to parents. Alternatively, pupils could contact their parents themselves to tell them. It’s important that parents are informed about the closure and know where their children are going. 

It would be best for parents to give consent for their child to be sent home, but you should take account of the context. Local authorities may have a policy on this, so maintained schools should check for local guidance.

Whether pupils are then sent home on their own or collected will also depend on the context, and should be informed by a risk assessment. 

For example, primary-aged pupils are likely to need to be collected, while older secondary school pupils should be able to go home on their own.

Consider factors such as:

  • 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

Decisions may need to be made on a pupil-by-pupil basis.

School 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 can be downloaded from the page below.

Erith School, a secondary school in Kent, says in its adverse weather policy that in the event of the school having to close during the day, students who have permission to be sent home will be dismissed by staff.

Those students who don’t have permission will be supervised until their parents can be contacted for permission to send them home, or until the end of the school day.

The policy can be downloaded from the following page:

KeyDoc: letter to parents following school closure

Use our template letter when writing to parents following the temporary closure of a school due to severe weather conditions.


A further article from The Key looks at examples of severe weather policies from schools.

The following article from the BBC has information on closing schools due to snow:

The DfE has published advice on the duties of schools in relation to health and safety:

The Key has taken great care in publishing this article. However, some of the article's content and information may come from or link to third party sources whose quality, relevance, accuracy, completeness, currency and reliability we do not guarantee. Accordingly, we will not be held liable for any use of or reliance placed on this article's content or the links or downloads it provides. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence.