Belfast Telegraph

Snow chaos: Anger at closure of 280 Northern Ireland school

By Brett Campbell

The costly decision to close more than 280 schools early yesterday due to snow and ice across Northern Ireland has been widely criticised.

Leading economist John Simpson said that, while the indirect cost of the closures is immeasurable, the "significant" knock-on effect cannot be denied.

"The short notice of these decisions means family arrangements are thrown into chaos which often results in one parent or guardian being unable to proceed with their work schedule," he said. "The consequences can be very serious and when people take time off work with essentially no notice it has a significant impact on employers."

Mr Simpson expressed concern that decisions to close schools are being taken too easily.

"Of course there will be some exceptions but we are far too willing to close schools over a couple of inches of snow, we should only rush to close them when there is a real threat to life."

He stressed the cancellation of public transport can be equally costly to the economy.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of Kingsbridge Private Hospital in Belfast took to social media to vent his frustrations yesterday morning.

"Post office deliveries, bus drivers, oil tanker deliveries, hoteliers, radio DJs, radiographers, nurses, doctors, plumbers, butchers and candlestick makers for the most part all made it to work today," Mark Regan wrote on Facebook.

He posted dash-cam images showing how "impassable the roads were for teachers" using the M2 - the road was clear.

He also questioned the knock-on effect of closing schools at the first hint of adverse weather and why it seemed to disproportionately affect schools.

"I understand that some schools should close, and for very valid reasons, but there's no reason for hundreds to close," he wrote.

Yesterday he told this newspaper that many staff in his hospital were unable to get home until 10.30pm on Tuesday, yet made it in to work the following morning.

"No clinical services were impacted in any way due to staff absences," he said.

One mother-of-three from Newtownards expressed concern after being forced to take unpaid leave as a result of her children being unable to attend school.

It's the second time that classroom assistant Terri Robinson has lost money due to snow and ice this winter.

"I work at a special needs school in Belfast and it was open, so I was surprised to be in this situation because the snow wasn't that bad here - I think it was a rushed decision to close so many schools," she said.

"My employer was very understanding but I worry about the impact on my reputation and getting my contract renewed.

"I don't want to be unreliable and I can't afford to keep taking unpaid leave."

Terri said her main worry is her pupils and she feels bad letting them down because many of them are set in a particular routine and rely heavily on her being a part of it.

A Department of Education spokesperson said that decisions to close schools are taken locally and only when absolutely necessary.

Belfast Telegraph

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