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Snow days: How DO schools decide when to close for snow - and what are working parents’ rights if they do?

Schools closed because of snow can be a headache for parents.
Schools closed because of snow can be a headache for parents.

Kids will be keeping fingers crossed for the news that wintry weather has closed their school - but for parents suddenly stuck with a child-care problem, ‘snow days’ can be a nightmare.

So how DO schools decide when to close - and what are your rights as a parent if you find you can’t get in to work because your kids are stuck at home?

Kids love a surprise day off school to go sledging!

Kids love a surprise day off school to go sledging!

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A Derbyshire County Council spokesperson said: “Each school develops its own individual severe weather policy and it is entirely up to headteachers and governors if and when they may choose to close.

“The county council’s approach is that every effort should be made to keep schools open where it is safe to do so and offers health and safety guidance to consider, such as are enough staff expected to be able to make the journey to work to ensure pupils are safely supervised and can safe access routes from the gates to entrances be maintained.

“It’s important to note that the council provides guidance only and schools are free to make their own decision about severe weather closures.”

Ian Marsh, headteacher at Scarcliffe Primary School, added: “A lot of thought goes in to the decision about school closures. The distance staff and pupils have to travel is a factor as well as how remote the school is.

“We also need to be mindful of the forecast as we don’t want children, or staff, to become stranded at school. Overall, we like to keep schools open as far as possible, but the health and safety of children and staff always comes first.”

Zoe Andrews, headteacher at Tibshelf Infant and Nursery school, said: It’s always a tough call to make but the general criteria is a safety issue – Can enough staff get to school to supervise the children?

“Can the children get to school safely and is there a high probability they will be able to remain in school all day? – it’s always tricky of you have to close the school part way through the day as parents/carers panic about collecting/not being able to collect their child and you have a duty of care to staff.”

Meanwhile, Employment expert, Tony Hyams-Parish, Partner at law firm DMH Stallard, has clarified what rights mums and dads have when the school stays shut and the kids have nowhere to go.

Tony explained: “Section 57A(e) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 allows employees to take a reasonable period of time off to deal with an unexpected incident which involves the employee’s child while they are at school (or another educational establishment). School closure due to weather is likely to fall under these rules.

“As soon as reasonably practicable, the employee must tell the employer of the need to leave work and the reason for this. This should include sufficient information to enable the employer to determine whether the statutory right applies.

“They must also tell the employer how long they expect to be away from work (unless it is not reasonably practicable). The right is to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off to take action which is “necessary”, and this will always depend on the circumstances.

“Importantly, there is no right to be paid during this time.

“Although that’s the strict legal position, many employers will be more flexible. They can allow employers to work from home, make time up later or where a longer period is necessary, allow holiday to be taken. Some will allow the time off without any consequence such as deduction of pay.”