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Lost snow days place school trips in jeopardy

SCHOOLS may cancel the annual tour or reduce the time allowed for exams to make up for the "snow days" that forced them to close in December.

These are among the suggestions from the Department of Education about replacing the tuition time that pupils lost because of the Arctic weather.

In extreme cases, schools could choose to open for part of their Easter holidays but any such decision would be voluntary and with local agreement.

The department has also laid down a marker that it wants greater flexibility around school opening and closing times from next September, to cover unforeseen closures on the scale experienced in December .

Department of Education rules require primary schools to open for 183 days, and for 167 at second-level -- and to make reasonable efforts to compensate for an unexpected shutdown.

Schools worst affected by the freezing conditions that swept the country for four weeks from the end of November were forced to close for 12 days, or more.

The unprecedented extent of the closures prompted the department to issue guidelines to schools on how to compensate for lost time.

It stresses that it is up to individual boards of management to decide the appropriate way to deal with the matter.

It says that subject to agreement at local level, a number of changes to normal practice could be made to ensure that students complete the curriculum for the year.

The department's list of examples includes prioritising tuition over non-tuition activities, reducing where possible the length of the mock/house exams, and prioritising learning over school tours.

Specifically, in the case of second-level schools, the department says that leaving and junior certificate students should attend all classes until the end of May.


Schools have also been told to consider using any discretionary days or half days that they had planned to close in order to make up any shortfall.

There is no specific mention of eating into the Easter holidays, but schools could "use any such other days that it considers appropriate and necessary to address the shortfall".

The department is seeking future flexibility to provide for contingency arrangements to allow schools make up for unforeseen, extensive closures.

That is on the agenda in discussions now under way on the standardised school year for 2011/12 and beyond.

Irish Independent