Conservative-run Essex County Council has warned that existing government rules could effectively be forcing heads to close their schools in periods of bad weather and have called for an urgent review.
Currently, if a school stays open and only a portion of pupils attend, the school will be penalised for having a low attendance rate by the DCSF. If a school decides to shut its doors due to the bad weather, all pupils are marked down to have attended, meaning 100% attendance.
The schools inspectorate, Ofsted, then considers absence figures as part of their inspection report of each school.
Evidence from Essex suggests these rules could have been contributing to schools closing to pupils over the last week because of the poor weather.
CountyCouncillor Stephen Castle, Essex Cabinet Member for Education said:
“I am calling for the DCSF to make a change to their policy in periods of adverse weather. In my opinion it is nonsensical that a school is marked down for opening its doors to the many pupils that are able to make it in.
"It is wrong that heads may feel pressurised into closing because they are worried their absence figures might damage their Ofsted reports. This cannot be right.
“The current weather conditions are expected to continue for a least a week and we must do everything we can to give schools all the support they need to remain open rather than penalising them and is why Ofsted needs to urgently review how it analyses absentee figures.
“The spring term is an important time for many pupils across the county as this is when many coursework assignments and exam preparation is done and I feel that by closing the schools for days at a time will have a detrimental effect on their learning.”
Councillor Castle is also writing to each head teacher in Essex asking them to think twice before making the decision to close a school.