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Martin Kirby Column; Accidents Happen, Mobile Madness and a Pub Quest

By Moanagram  |  Posted: January 25, 2013

  • Sign of the times

Comments (12)

Because I don't work for the Met Office, I don't know what the weather will be like by the time you read this. Mind you, half the time, the Met Office doesn't seem to know either.
How come the weather bods can get it right when things are looking grim, but when they talk about a 'barbecue summer', they're nowhere near?
Anyway, last week, like many more eminent people than me I was gobsmacked at the way many schools closed at the slightest hint of a snowflake, and pointed out that people of my vintage waded through snowdrifts and sat in freezing classrooms with icicles hanging from our noses. I struck a chord with a lot of you and had a good response to my musings.
In fact there's been such a fuss nationally that a lot of schools have been embarrassed into promising that it is unlikely to happen again, but why does it happen at all? There is more than one reason and top of the list, as always, is 'Health 'n' Safety'.
Now I happen to think the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) gets a lot of unfair stick for the daft rules we are told they impose, when in fact the HSE is used as a scapegoat by organisations that are frightened to death of being sued. Number one on that list is schools.
Head teachers worry, with some justification, that if little Kylie bruises her bum, Kylie's parents will be straight round to RipOffLawyersRus, hoping to get enough 'compo' to pay for a fortnight in Orlando. It's about time this madness was chopped-off at the knees from both sides.
Firstly, parents should be told it is their responsibility to dress their kids in clothes suitable for the weather conditions and make sure they understand that if it's icy and they run, they might fall down. So they need to be extra careful.
Secondly, unless there is a serious, REAL, danger to health and safety, schools should not be allowed to close. Is it beyond the wit of the Education Department to ensure that a minimum number of teachers at any one school actually live within that school's catchment area? It should be one of the conditions of employment. On the very rare occasions my school was a teacher down, the 'spare' class was divided up between the remaining staff members with no apparent risk to health and safety. Teachers would also do well to remember that the people inconvenienced by closures are the ones paying the tax which supplies their salaries.
The most ridiculous thing of all, last week, was the sight of children for whom it was decided school was too dangerous, wandering the streets with sledges under their arms, on their way to slide full-belt down the icy slopes of Robinswood Hill.

Waiting on a central reservation, I was pleased that a young lady in a silver car had slowed down for me to cross the road. Fortunately I had enough time to dive for the opposite pavement when I realised she hadn't even seen me because she was looking down at the mobile phone in her hand. Anyone caught using a hand-held phone while driving gets three penalty points on their licence and a fine of £60. But the chance of being caught is slim and in any case, most youngsters are willing to pay up rather than be without their phone for two minutes. So there's the answer. Anyone caught using a mobile while driving should receive the above penalties, plus have their phone confiscated until the fine is paid.
The fear of losing their contact list or not being able to update their status on Facebook is more likely to deter them than anything else.

Can you help the Stonehouse History Group? They are seeking photos and memories of the former Crown and Anchor pub in Stonehouse, now a Doctor's surgery. If you have any information, contact Shirley Dicker on 01453 824347

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  • Judas  |  January 25 2013, 9:45PM

    FreeRadical1 - How's this for blaming teachers by Martin Kirby (albeit indirectly): "Teachers would also do well to remember that the people inconvenienced by closures are the ones paying the tax which supplies their salaries."

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  • moremiles  |  January 25 2013, 8:41PM

    This is a really emotional subject and yes I'm sure in past decades schools stayed open no matter what. There's no doubt that closing a school causes huge disruption to parents lives as they usually have work commitments. However, put yourself in the shoes of a headteacher or chair of governors, it's been snowing all night, it's 6am and dark and you really have no idea what the conditions are elsewhere. Sometimes it's clear in Glos centre and 6 inches of snow on Birdlip! You have a decision to make! Last week a bus full of school children slid of the road and into a ditch in Wales, which is only a few miles away from our borders. Fortunately no-one was seriously hurt. In Gloucestershire, we have major hills in Stroud, higher altitude and rural communities in both the Forest and the Cotswolds. Many staff travel long distances and many schools, especially faith schools, bus children across the county. Put yourself in that situation and tell me if your listening to the BBC quoting experts saying only travel if absolutely necessary, you wouldn't make the call to close your school. No child's life is worth risking for a day in school. May sound dramatic, but imagine what the public reaction would be if a minibus full of children skidded into a tree in the Forest in the dark at 8am on a snow day killing all onboard.

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  • FreeRadical1  |  January 25 2013, 5:08PM

    I can't see where Martin Kirby is blaming teachers. He mentions head teachers, and it is clear that head teachers ARE the ones who decide whether a school opens or not. He points out that head teachers worry about compesation culture. He points out that some parents don't dress their children appropriately for the cold weather. He further points out that when a school is closed due to the snow, many of the children are then allowed to toboggan down hills, which is more dangerous for them than attending school. What's wrong with that?

  • geraint2010  |  January 25 2013, 2:58PM

    It is head-teachers who decide whether or not to close their school and their dilemma is that a decision usually needs making by 7am. His or her decision will normally depend on how many staff members are likely turn up for work - not easy considering that teachers today generally live much further away from their place of work than was the case in years gone by. While there is no easy solution, a financial inducement that encouraged schools to employ staff living within 5 miles of their school, while discouraging the appointment of staff living further afield, might help while saving teachers a lot of petrol money into the bargain.

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  • Judas  |  January 25 2013, 2:29PM

    Councilwonk - Thank you, so it's NOT the teachers as Martin Kirby has pointed out. Sometimes the governors will have a say and sometimes the bus companys doing the school runs will have a deciding factor.

  • Judas  |  January 25 2013, 2:29PM

    Councilwonk - Thank you, so it's NOT the teachers as Martin Kirby has pointed out. Sometimes the governors will have a say and sometimes the bus companys doing the school runs will have a deciding factor.

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  • PengiPete  |  January 25 2013, 1:29PM

    In case it escaped your attention, schools are not just places where people dump their kids during the day - they're not even JUST places where children go to learn - they are also work-places and therefore subject to the same laws as any other place of employment. As employees, everyone employed to work in a school has rights - the same rights you do when you sit in an office. And at least try to understand that not everyone in a school is a teacher or pupil - there are other people working there as well. If a school is located in an area where house-prices are high, the "janitor" or "dinner ladies" may HAVE to live five miles away - or are you saying that people living near schools should be forced to do those jobs? Maybe you're saying that schools should only employ people - including teachers - who live within a 200 yard radius of the school - even if that means employing the least qualified people. Seriously - I've met sixth formers who have better considered opinions - and they think you can end a war with flowers and whacky-bacci.

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  • Councilwonk  |  January 25 2013, 1:11PM

    Judas - headteachers decide if a school opens or not - no-one else has a say.

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  • Alfredo_  |  January 25 2013, 12:46PM

    This is such an idiotic piece, and shows that the writer has absolutely no idea. For a school to operate it requires staff. Many staff travel a lot further than little Kylie, Chardonnay, or whatever the vacuous are naming their offspring these days, so those staff may well be experiencing far worse weather than those more local to a school I appreciate that this sort of article is intended to garner reaction and provide stay-at-home mums with something to rant about over coffee, but Mr Kirby doesn't half come across as a rabid, brain-dead moron. It would be handy if people like you, Mr Kirby, tried to support your local schools, rather than blame them for matters that are, I'm afraid, beyond their control.

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  • Judas  |  January 25 2013, 12:06PM

    My wife is a teacher and she was TOLD about her school closing. She was annoyed with this herself as she had a lot to go through and the lesson planning that she went through more or less went to waste. Her students and she will have to catch up on time lost in their own time. I am aware some teachers will be glad of the unexpected break, but truthfully, wouldn't we all find this as an appreciated bonus whilst still getting paid for it? I am also aware that some private shops and companies closed (or partially closed) due to the adverse weather conditions too. I like many on here, recall going to school in far worse weather conditions than we have just encountered. The difference between then and now? The law-suit culture. The powers to be are terrified of getting involved in the compensation traps which many are happy to leap into.

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