Caroline Jordan, headmistress of Headington School, explains just how difficult it can be for schools to make the decision to close during snowy weather.

A FEW weeks ago I was discussing the subject for this article, which would fall between Christmas and New Year and had decided that snow – and how schools deal with it – would be the subject.

Little did I know that a few days later we would be facing the reality of a heavy fall of snow followed by sub-zero temperatures.

For schools, the decision on what to do in poor weather will always attract criticism.

Stay open and you risk being criticised for not prioritising safety.

Close and you are making life difficult for the working families who suddenly have to find childcare.

If you are a day and boarding school with 200 boarders on site as we are, closing altogether is not an option – and managing the situation is a real challenge.

I have been headteacher at Headington for seven years and Monday,. December 11, was the first time we have ever closed the school to day girls.

On one prior occasion we sent girls home early but this was the first time we took the decision not to open due to inclement weather.

There are so many factors that go into making a decision like this.

First and foremost, the safety of our girls and staff.

Can the site be made safe and the grounds cleared? Is the access safe?

Will sufficient staff be able to make their way to work to ensure that those who are here can be supervised? Are other schools closing, meaning staff who are parents have childcare issues?

If girls struggle in, will we have anyone here who can teach them?

Have any of our utilities been affected – ie can we keep everyone warm and dry?

Will we be able to provide meals? Are buses running?

What is the weather forecast going forwards? Is there a risk that girls may arrive here safely but conditions will deteriorate leaving them stuck at school?

Before any decisions can be made, all these things need to be considered and this is a job not just for one person but for a whole team.

As a boarding school, we are lucky enough that a significant number of staff live on site, meaning the safety of our boarders can be assured.

It is not, however, nearly enough members of staff to run a full school day.

As the day went by on Sunday, December 10, with several inches of snow on the ground and more predicted the next day, neighbouring schools announcing their closures one by one, icy and dangerous conditions on the roads and advice to avoid all but essential travel, it became clear that we could not ask our girls and staff to make a potentially dangerous journey into school.

We were fortunate enough, however, to be able to offer the facility to look after any girl who was stuck during the school day, something made possible by our day/boarding set up.

I was hugely impressed by the dedication of our staff, who went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure we were ready for reopening the next day.

One of our chefs abandoned his car on the A40 and walked to school to ensure that our boarders were able to have lunch.

Our grounds staff worked tirelessly to plough, shovel and grit all our pathways and inspect trees as many branches had been brought down by the snow.

Our boarding staff planned and executed a full programme for the girls in their care – making sure they made the most of their snow day.

The next day, all in all, I feel we made the right decision in the circumstances.

Of course, there are still roughly two months of winter left – we may yet find ourselves in this position again before spring with another unpopular decision to make.