Schools face new rules for days lost over bad weather
SCHOOLS face new rules next year about making up days lost through unexpected closures because of extreme weather.
Pupils and teachers may have to cut short the February mid-term break or the Easter holidays to compensate for shutdowns caused by severe conditions, such as the heavy snow which disrupted schools from late November.
A new contingency plan to apply in cases of unforeseen closure has been drafted in talks between the Department of Education, school management bodies and teacher unions, the Irish Independent has learned.
Schools will be obliged to open for the first three days of the Easter break and for up to three of the five days allowed for the February mid-term break, if necessary. It will mean parents and teachers will have to think twice before booking holidays in advance for the two spring breaks.
The standardised school year was introduced a number of years ago, fixing specific dates for holidays and mid-term breaks up to three years in advance, mainly for the benefit of working parents.
However, the severe weather over the past two winters caused massive disruption to schools, highlighting the need for flexibility in the school calendar to ensure pupils do not lose out on teaching.
Schools affected by unforeseen closures make every effort to restore tuition time, but the scale of the shutdown last December was unprecedented.
Some primary schools, particularly in rural areas where transport is more of a problem, were shut for as many as 12 days during the four weeks up to Christmas.
This can particularly affect those students preparing for the Leaving Cert and Junior Cert exams.
The December disruption forced the postponement of deadlines for certain Leaving Cert projects.
Previously, schools have not had the option of interfering with pre-arranged breaks to make up time.
Under the new arrangements, parents and staff will be on notice that the school's opening dates, in February and at Easter, are subject to change.
The date for the October mid-term break for 2011/12 has been fixed at October 31-November 4 inclusive, while schools will close on December 22 for Christmas and re-open on January 9.
The February mid-term break may run from February 13 to 17 and where contingency arrangements are required, schools can remain open until February 15.
Schools will close on March 30 for the two-week Easter holiday, but may stay open until April 4, if the days are needed.