Tuesday, December 07, 2010

West Lothian Council's Schools Cop Out

West Lothian Council has reached a baffling decision that is the worst of all worlds as regards schools opening tomorrow.

I'll post the ten announcements made on the Council's excellent Twitter feed  While the Council has in general done very well in horrific circumstances, I think they've mucked up here, especially as regards primary schools.
I have the info on schools that you are waiting for, it will take quite a few posts to share. Please read the info for parents.
Given current road conditions it is not possible for the council to guarantee school transport.
as it is the responsibility of the School Transport Operator to risk assess this provision.
When schools re-open, travel to and from school will, in many instances remain difficult.
Parents/carers are advised to check that pupils can get to and from school safely before they set out.
The decision to access schools when conditions could be difficult can only be made by the parent/carer.
The following will be closed on Wednesday 8 December : All special schools and all special classes in primary schools.
The following will be closed on Wednesday 8 December : All Nursery schools and all nursery classes and wraparound care provision.
The following will be closed on Wednesday 8 December: Linlithgow Primary School; Bellsquarry Primary School and Kirknewton Primary School +
The following will be closed on Wednesday 8 Dec: Pumpherston and Uphall Station Community Primary School; Westfield Primary School +
The following will be closed on Wednesday 8 December: Torphichen Primary School.
Please read the 10 posts above  carefully - apart from those noted all other Primary Schools in West Lothian will be open.
You may not know this but I'm not much of a meteorologist. I'm being asked to make an assessment of what the weather is likely to do over the 6 hour period of the school day, without access to the detailed forecasts that the Council has. We all know what happened the other day, and how things can change very quickly.


How am I supposed to know from here how conditions are up at the school and what the route is like before I set off?


In practice, and with the temperature forecast to be well below zero tomorrow, I suspect that I'll make the decision to keep Anna at home. I hope that she won't be marked down as an unauthorised absence because of my concern that it is simply not safe to get her from here to the school either on foot or in a car.


I get that the schools have been shut for 6 days out of the last 7 and that working parents are finding this a real struggle. They need the schools to be open, but surely not at any price.


I think the Council have copped out here. If the schools are open, then there needs to be transport provided for the people who normally get it and the roads in the vicinity need to be passable. Reports from parents who walked up on Monday even before the snow started falling said that the paths around our school hadn't been cleared and were absolutely treacherous. A tiny ribbon had been cleared in the playground and that was about it. Walking in those conditions is not an option for me and I'm not keen on driving there either given what I've heard about the road the school is on.


For secondary schools, the information is as follows:
The information about secondary schools is a bit more complicated for twitter - please read carefully.
The secondary school information which follows relates to the year groups that should attend school on Wednesday 8 December.
Armadale Academy, S4 to S6 should attend school on Wednesday 8 December.
Bathgate Academy, S3 to S6 should attend school on Wednesday 8 December.
Broxburn Academy, S4 to S6 should attend school on Wednesday 8 December.
Deans Community High School, S4 to S6 should attend school on Wednesday 8 December.
Inveralmond Community High School, S3 to S6 should attend school on Wednesday 8 December.
Linlithgow Academy, S1 to S6 should attend school on Wednesday 8 December.
St Kentigern’s Academy, S4 to S6 should attend school on Wednesday 8 December.
St Margaret’s Academy, S4 to S6 should attend school on Wednesday 8 December.
The James Young High School, S1 to S6 should attend school on Wednesday 8 December.
West Calder High School, S3 to S6 should attend school on Wednesday 8 December.
Whitburn Academy, S4 to S6 should attend school on Wednesday 8 December
The illogicality of the Council's position is clear when you consider Meldrum Primary in Livingston. It is currently situated in a corner of Deans High School. These kids have been told their school is open, but S1-S3 Deans High pupils have been told not to. That makes no sense. Why is it safe for the wee ones and not for the 12-15 year olds.

My worry about our school as well is that a fair few teachers live out of town. I don't want them to be pressured to take unnecessary risks to get in and nor do I want to see a situation where parents have struggled to get their kids to school only to be called half way through the day or sooner and told to pick them up again because they don't have the staff cover. 


As far as I know, once a child is through the school gates, there must be a safe route for them to access the school that's been cleared of ice and snow. I understand that this was not the case at a fair number of schools on Monday. I don't feel that I can properly assess whether it's safe for my child to go to school unless I see a copy of the risk assessment that the head teacher has prepared and I know whether there is a safe path. 


The Council is expecting us to make an assessment on whether to send our children to school without giving us the proper information we need to make that assessment. It's a cop out on their part.  In the absence of that, I am likely to choose not to send my daughter.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not sure what the problem is here Caron. My interpretation is that, apart from the schools and classes that have been closed, the council is saying it will be safe for children to be at school.

They are simply formalising the decision a parent has to make every day on whether their children can get to school safely. This appears fairly straightforward to me.

(I would agree with your assessment that it would not be safe, for what it's worth)

By the way, I have it on good authority that the weather forecast that WLC received and paid for from the met office on Sunday suggested that between 2 and 5 cm of snow would fall during the course of yesterday morning.

I know it is fashionable to bash politicians and transport workers but if this is in any way representative of the information other authorities were getting from their forecasting services it certainly explains a lot.

Remember Michael Fish and his assurance that there were no hurricanes coming to the south of england!!!

Douglas McLellan said...

With all due respect Caron its this line that causes schools most problems:

"I don't feel that I can properly assess whether it's safe for my child to go to school unless I see a copy of the risk assessment that the head teacher has prepared and I know whether there is a safe path"

Because not every pupil can be watched for the entire day and not every path can be cleared all the time and because of the compensation culture, the decision to open schools is not being made on the basis of what is right for pupils educationally or is possible due to teacher number but instead it is the likelihood of being sued.

My mum was trained as a Primary School Teacher and her attitude was if I could get to the end of the street safely, school was not a problem.

Paul said...

Seems like they are saying, we are open, we will make the schools safe, but transport to the school (the school buses etc) is out of our hands so if think that it is too difficult to get your children to the school we are not going to hold it against you.

Personally as we can walk our kids to school I would be a bit annoyed if they can make the school safe, get the teachers in, but wouldn't open it because it would be difficult for some parents to drive there.

I agree with Douglas

"I don't feel that I can properly assess whether it's safe for my child to go to school unless I see a copy of the risk assessment that the head teacher has prepared and I know whether there is a safe path"

We are living in Suing Britain these days and I think it is a deep shame that Labour did this with their Nanny State.

It is exactly this sort of attitude that stopped people clearing their drive for fear of being sued if someone slipped on it.

Unless it was shown that a teacher deliberately did something that hurt my child at school, I would never sue. If one of them slips over tomorrow and breaks their arm on the way in, I will call it an accident and not hold it against anyone.

Same as Newsnight trying to find someone to blame for the M8 nightmare. It solves nothing. All it did was entrench the Transport Minister into a defensive position and actually contributes nothing to working out what went wrong and how to try to learn from it and not let it happen again.

Caron said...

It's not about compensation, it's about information.

What would be helpful to me is an indication whether the main paths and roads around the school had been cleared or gritted. If I knew they had been, it would assist me in making the decision whether it's safe. All I have to go in is the experience of parents who went up on Monday and said that conditions around the school are an absolute nightmare, with no clearing having been done and them having to stop in the middle of the road to let their kids out because of abandoned vehicles.

I'd want to know as well that they were confident that the school was going to be open the whole day and that they could get their staff in.

That would certainly help a friend of mine who has been working extra nights as a nurse to cover people who haven't been able to get in because of the weather. Had the kids been off on Monday, she'd have been able to sleep from 7:30 when she got in until just before 3 when she'd have to pick them up. As it was, she had an hour long trudge to school and back to deliver them before getting a call 3 hours later to pick them up - and she was working that night.

There's no clarity and consistency in what the Council are doing - the Meldrum situation is just stupid. It's safe for primary kids to come into a building but not for the first 3 years of secondary. That makes no sense whatsoever and it doesn't inspire confidence in the Council's decision at all.

I'm also very aware that many of our teachers come from west of Livingston. As you know, west of Livingston is where most of the people have been stuck on the M8. I don't want them being pressured to take unnecessary risks to get into work.

Andrew Miller said...

For clarity on the Deans/Meldrum situation. The school has been assessed as safe to open. The reason that only certain year groups are in is that the school will be a number of staff down due to some living too far away to be able to get in. Therefore there is no safety issue and it's perfectly appropriate for the Meldrum children to be in as Meldrum will have it's own staff.

As to risk assessment, the authority has risk assessed the school, it wont risk assess the journey from your house to the school gate. That's your job as a parent, a job you do every day, admitted this week that job is a bit more difficult. I certainly decided this morning to take my daughter to school. Considering the days they have been off the kids have been out playing I hardly thought the path to school was an insurmountable barrier.

Accepted that different people will have different circumstances, which is a major reason why the council cant (and shouldn't) make 20,000 individual decisions.

Hope that doesn't sound snippy, it's been a long week full of people playing the blame game when the reality is the worst weather since the 60's and a staff working day and night to keep the county running.

Caron said...

Thanks Andrew - for everyone else who doesn't know, Andrew is my local councillor and in charge of education at West Lothian Council.

I don't get the Deans/Meldrum situation at all. I am really concerned that there is more pressure being put on primary school staff to get in. To pressure anyone to come into work when the Police are advising motorists not to travel in Central Scotland could be construed as reckless.

I've not sent Anna today, and I feel a bit guilty about it - not because of her, because one day isn't going to make a huge difference, but because there are staff who've made the effort.

I can't send her walking on her own to school and I wasn't confident about driving up there on roads that haven't been cleared in sub zero temperatures. I may give it a go tomorrow if it gets warmer.

Sure, she's been out playing in the snow a lot - although she doesn't seem to last very long, even walking, without getting soaking wet. When that happens, she comes in, dries off, changes and goes out again. It's different from arriving at school soaking and having to spend the day drying out. There is a difference.

I know that you can't make a decision on safety for every parent getting to school - that's our job, but a bit more information about which paths had been cleared and gritted would have been helpful. The Nellburn Path, for example, is like a motorway for walkers to Deans, Meldrum, St John Ogilvie and Deans High.

I don't doubt for a moment that the Council has generally done a very good job in hellish conditions. I have never known snow as bad and my husband is muttering darkly about the Winter of 1963. I still think today's decision is flawed, though.

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