Saturday 25 November 2017

School-term dates face review following closures due to snow

Senan Cleevan enjoying the snow in Oldtown, Cavan
Senan Cleevan enjoying the snow in Oldtown, Cavan
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

THE chaos caused by the Arctic weather may force a review of the rules governing the school year.

The massive disruption is likely to cause a rethink on whether the school calendar is flexible enough to cater for such unforeseen events.

The issue is expected to come up in talks about to get under way on the Standardised School Year, which dictates opening and closing dates.

Many schools -- closed for a week already -- don't know when they will re-open because the Met office predicts there will be no let-up in the extreme conditions until next Wednesday. If the weather clears by the middle of next week, it will raise questions for some Catholic schools that have arranged to close on December 8, a church holy day.

The widespread nature of the school closures due to weather is unprecedented -- and there are fears of further disruption before the winter is over.

The loss of tuition time could cause serious upset to pupils, particularly to those preparing for the Leaving and Junior Cert exams. Clive Byrne, director of the second-level National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, said schools would ensure that pupils did not lose out.

Principals have little leeway in terms of making up lost days because of the Standardised School Year, which fixes dates for mid-term breaks and the Christmas and Easter holy days.

There is an underlying requirement on primary schools to open for 183 days -- at second-level it is 167 -- and subject to complying with the terms of the standardised year, schools have some discretion about when their year starts and finishes. The standardised year was agreed a number of years ago, partly to facilitate working parents who were fed up with inconsistencies between schools on days for holidays and mid-term breaks. This year the Christmas holiday starts on December 23, and schools re-open on January 10.

Another Catholic Church holy day, the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, was a factor in agreeing the re-opening dates in January, which has never preceded January 6.

The extreme weather has hit as talks on the Standardised School Year dates for 2011/12 and subsequent years were about to get under way.


Sources close to the talks said it was inevitable that the disruption caused by severe weather last January, and in the past week, would come up for discussion in the talks about arrangements for the school year in future.

Eileen Flynn, general secretary of the Catholic Primary School Management Association, said it was the absence of school buses due to lack of road gritting that had caused most schools to close and that was an issue that must be addressed.

Irish Independent

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