Scottish Borders Council replaces resilient schools snow policy

Council workmen try to clear deep snow from roads in Lauder earlier this year. Photograph by Phil Wilkinson
Council workmen try to clear deep snow from roads in Lauder earlier this year. Photograph by Phil Wilkinson

Headteachers in the Borders are being given the authority to decide if their schools should shut when it snows.

Scottish Borders Council has scrapped its controversial resilient schools policy and is now delegating the say-so on closures to heads.

That scheme, introduced following weeks of heavy snowfall in 2010, aimed to keep as many schools open as possible during bad weather.

However, emergency staffing arrangements meant that some schools were shut even though little or no snow had fallen nearby.

Under that now-defunct policy, teachers were required to turn up for work at the school nearest to their home, provided it was less than a mile and a half away, if school transport was cancelled to any of the authority’s schools due to severe weather.

That protocol has now been scrapped, with decisions about individual school and nursery closures set to be based on information from headteachers and staff based locally from now on, Kelso Community Council’s meeting last week heard.

After members questioned the decision to end the scheme without consulting parents, Kelso councillor Tom Weatherston told them: “Basically, too many teachers live too far away from schools to walk in.

“The other problem is that the Borders is a huge area – you can have two feet of snow in Kelso but none in Peebles, or vice versa. Under resilient schools, they all had to close, which is just silly.”

Stuart Easingwood, the council’s interim service director for children and young people, added that the resilient schools policy could only operate if all schools across the Borders were involved.

“Schools could only open under resilient schools if they had enough staff to open or partially open,” Mr Easingwood said.

“Since its introduction in 2010, we have found that less schools could open under resilient schools because more staff are living greater distances from council schools.

“We have also received considerable criticism from families over recent years because of differences in conditions across the large geographic area of the Borders.

“Therefore, a decision was taken to operate a more localised approach to decision-making in severe weather.

“This empowers headteachers to be able to assess more localised conditions, assess risk and make informed decisions in conjunction with the emergency planning provision of the council and with the chief executive, Tracey Logan.

“This is all being done to keep as many schools as possible open, when safe to do so, in inclement conditions.”

Parents will be notified of any closures via the council’s messaging service, with information also available on its website and social media channels.

“Only where absolutely necessary will a full school closure be implemented,” said a council spokesperson.

“Sometimes it may not be appropriate or necessary to have a blanket closure of schools, either in a cluster or across the whole region.

“Decisions on closures or partial closures are taken in the interests of safety, and wherever possible, we will attempt to keep schools open, but this is not always possible.”

“Where schools are open in bad weather, it is important that parents realise that they ultimately have the responsibility to decide whether or not they wish to send their children to school under those circumstances.”