The Problem Today
This week, the UK has experienced the worst cold spell it has seen in at least 5 years, which is to say, since London last saw the white stuff. Over 2,700 schools shut on Monday, with many remaining closed on Tuesday. The emergency services have put out warning after warning for people not to travel unless absolutely necessary, and yet there is a whole load of people who seem to think that this advice is for everyone other than them, and that schools have closed because this generation of teachers are soft, pathetic snowflakes who shut up shop and hide in a corner with a crushed avocado on toast and a soya decaff pumpkin spice latte when things get tough.
What actually happens, is that the police, fire service, and the Highways Agency, along with other public organisations too numerous to mention, have to undertake risk assessments for the safety of their staff and the public before they offer advice. They also work together to come up with as many contingencies as possible for all the different scenarios hazardous weather may cause. They don't want to see anyone get hurt, and they certainly don't want to be knocking on someones door to let them know that their loved one was hit by someone who refused to drive to the road conditions. It's less than two weeks until Christmas; no one wants to be mourning their friends or family, or sitting by their bedside, whispering that they'd happily give the dozens of presents they brought to charity, if their loved one would just recover.
Country In Crisis?
So Why Do Schools Shut?
The biggest argument that I hear, as a parent, is that schools never shut for snow when other people were kids. This is true; during the Big Freeze of 1962, schools didn't shut, the roads had snow ploughs clearing the way, and the eternally resilient British public simply got on with their lives a best as possible for the 62 days that snow covered the south. However, the issue is that people compare today's society to that of the 1960's during times like this, and appear shocked when it becomes apparent that things have changed.
Schools don't shut because the staff don't want to work (a common argument). Schools shut because teachers can't get in safely. You see, long gone are the days where the local village school was only for local people. When the teacher lived either in the village itself, or in the neighbouring one, and would walk to school. Most village teachers can't afford to live in the areas they teach, and so have to commute, often by car, but also by bus or bicycle. Bus services, no longer run by local councils, have been cut from rural areas (I have to walk 3 miles if I need to catch a bus) leaving the residents with no choice but to buy and run a car, and then rural roads are often the last to see the grit lorries, leaving many people unable to safely get to work. This isn't just he case for teachers, but for the support staff, too. The maintenance man, the receptionist, the teaching assistants, the dinner ladies, most of them have to commute in, and they all play a vital role in the running of the school. Then there are the children, who often have to catch the school bus or be driven into school because they live outside of the village (again, because their parents often can't afford to live in the village itself). If most of the teaching staff, support staff, or pupils can't get in, the school isn't going to be able to open.
But What About City Schools?
Transportation issues and unsafe roads is obviously a massive issue in rural areas, but what about city schools, where there is a better transport system and staff are able to afford to live closer to their place of work? Why do they shut?
The full answer is complex, but it all boils down to risk assessments.
Risk assessments for the roads in icy weather often result in the advice not to travel unless necessary, as do those for pavements, which get gritted less often than the roads.
Risk assessments for public transport will, on account of the advice given for roads, result in cancelled and reduced time tables, meaning that it's harder for people to get to their destinations.
Risk assessments for schools, because of the mounting transport issues, as well as slippery playgrounds, lack of staff (due to transport issues) and possible maintenance problems that arise from a lack of adequate funding for the building itself (burst water pipes and lack of heating and electricity are most often the culprits when it comes to issues with the building itself, although leaky roofs are becoming more common, as well) all add together to mean that it is safer for the school to remain closed.
Anywhere that has staff or public access will perform a risk assessment for adverse weather conditions, and each of these assessments has a knock on effect to the normal running of the country.
How Do Risk Assessments Shut Down Schools?
Every company needs to run risk assessments. This includes services like the police, fire service, ambulance, Highways Agency, TfL, train companies, bus companies, and schools. The reason they need to do this is because, back in the 90's, the Great British public got it into their heads that suing for everything from serious injury from a falling piano to a bruised ego from tripping over a loose paving slab was a god idea. Sorry to burst your bubble, Generation X, but that one is on you. The result of the litigation culture was the rise of the risk assessment. As long as a risk assessment is completed and filled out, a company has proof that they saw any hazards and made an action plan to reduce the risk. If the action plan was carried out, well done! You're less likely to be successfully sued if something goes wrong, or. at least, be bankrupted by the payout. Because of this, people are suing over the smallest of things, and we have developed into a Nanny State, where good ol' common sense is getting rarer by the day, and people are worried about doing things without the say-so and approval of an authority figure, because it might be the wrong thing to do.
So every organisation in the country does a risk assessment at the first sign of snow. They take into account everyone who needs to get to work miles away, they take into account the people who don't give themselves additional time for the road conditions because it's 'just a bit of snow' and 'the only reason everyone else has an issue is because they can't drive'. They take into account the fact that people will try to make their journey, but their car will get stuck and they'll have to abandon it, causing a hazard for other road users. They take into account the fact that the gritters can't be everywhere at once, and that some roads, roads less travelled, simply aren't a priority for the gritting teams. They take into account that people will try to walk, but the pavements are rarely treated, and so there will be people that slip and injure themselves. They take into account that, along with all of the abandoned cars and understaffed businesses, there will be a lot of opportunist crime to deal with.
Once all of these risks are assessed, they make a decision, and that decision is often to advise people not to travel, not to go to work, and to close the schools. It's just safer all round, and it means that the school can't be sued for injuries that children sustain during snow days, because they're the responsibility of their parent or carer.
So, Does This Mean We ARE Raising A Generation Of Snowflakes?
Not really. Not on purpose, at least.
What we are, hopefully, doing is raising a generation of young people that will take stock of official advice when it's given, who will weigh up their options and make a suitable, well-thought-out decision. We're raising the children of the recession, children who know that most households need two incomes to survive, but that bill will mount up faster if they're in hospital and unable to work because they behaved ignorantly and tried to race to work in adverse conditions. I hope that we're raising children who will have common sense, because it was forced upon them, as well as their parents, while they were growing up.
We have to remember that, just because things aren't the way they used to be, doesn't mean that the changes are bad. Life is different, and people are more likely to need to travel for work and school. We have a larger population now, but the level of infrastructure hasn't kept up, and so people have to travel further. Yes, there are people that make excuses, but that has been true of every generation, or have people forgotten the men who tried to get out of National Service for minor or made up ailments during both World Wars? These people were the exception then, not the rule, and that is also true now. Most teachers want to teach (honestly, they don't do it for the money, because the money is awful), and most people want to be in work. If you ask the kids, most of them would prefer to be in school, too. Being at home is boring, especially when going out and doing anything other than playing in the snow (which gets boring as soon as your fingers turn blue) is nearly impossible because the country has shut down. After a day or two of this, kids would prefer to be at school with their friends.
Dabby Lyric on December 27, 2017:
It seems the states have similar practices when it comes to weather-based shut downs. I think you summed it up very well. I liked how candid you were in this piece lol. I found myself giggling a few times though the subject matter isn't funny at all. Keep writing!