The education column with Dennis Richards

Harrogate residents on The Stray during the wintry weather last week.
Harrogate residents on The Stray during the wintry weather last week.

Storm Emma meets the Beast from the East. Emma was a nice change. Usually it’s something like Hurricane Brian, or on one momentous occasion Storm Norman. And for a brief while, we stopped the world and got off.

When I say “we”, I mean schools of course. Thankfully our doctors, nurses, and the emergency services didn’t. Nor did the shops. But before you rush to say “typical teachers” spare a thought for the head teacher. Safety is paramount. It’s also a recipe for chaos. And if there’s one thing Head Teachers fear, it’s chaos. Coupled with that, a crippling feeling of powerlessness. Which quickly turns into paranoia.

You see, all the students, and, let’s be honest, all the staff are praying, for the school to have what is euphemistically known as a “snow day”. It means a legitimate, unanswerable right to bunk off.

I have to say the Beast and Emma together proved to be a formidable duo.

Even the head teachers who pride themselves on their “we never close” mantra were defeated this time.

Not that I would ever criticise. One way or the other. It’s a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. At first the Beast’s arrival looked much the same as in previous years. The media had their usual snowball story ready. The headlines were different this year, since “snowflake” has recently become a familiar term for mollycoddled students.

It was Piers Morgan, never knowingly understated, who launched into Dagenham head teacher Ges Smith on GMTV about his ban on even touching the snow. Piers was positively foaming at the mouth. Meanwhile Shaun Fenton, the head of Reigate Grammar School, embraced the opposite conclusion.

The Times headline did him no favours. “Skive off school and enjoy sledging, says headmaster”. Both Gezzer and Shaun struck me as a bit naïve. Gezzer for agreeing to submit to Piers in the first place. Shaun, on the other hand, waxing lyrical about his students making snowmen. I don’t think so.

In my experience students usually prefer a snowball fight, leading to an old-fashioned punch up between Year 10 and Year 11.

Stray FM was in full crisis mode. Correspondents reported from Pool Bank and Harewood. Pateley Bridge was cut off. It always is. The biggest pressure on heads comes from the uncertainty surrounding your colleague’s intentions in the school up the road. If you decide to close and every other school stays open, you infuriate the parents and delight their children.

If you do the opposite and open up the school in blizzard conditions, staff and students form an unholy alliance to make life as miserable as possible. You begin with a forlorn appeal to the goodwill of the staff to help you on break duty.

Since Fred has just staggered in from Leeds after 3 hours on the A61, his response can politely be interpreted as “No, thank you”, except not in those exact words.

At break there is a lovely warm fug in the staff room, a smell of fresh coffee and steaming mugs of tea. You vainly bob your head round the door. Captain Oates it is.

“I may be gone some time”. The school field resembles Siberia.

Year 10 and Year 11 are ominously lined up on opposite sides of the field.

All hell is about to let loose.

Local radio used to require a password if you were informing them that your school was closing. Could I ever remember it?

One year I was firmly put in my place by an exasperated receptionist. “This is not a game, Mr Richards”. It is now. I had two lovely snow days. Thanks Emma.