A quick guide on what to do in severe winter conditions or adverse weather.

School closure advice

The Department for Education (DfE) advises that any decision to close a school is for head teachers, since they know their schools and the surrounding area. DfE advice is that head teachers should use common sense in assessing the risks and keep their schools open whenever it is safe to do so. Schools can improve their readiness and planning for severe weather by signing up to the Met Office’s severe weather warning system.

Severe weather may mean that some schools are unable to open as planned (for instance, because of broken heating or frozen pipes) or that some students and staff are unable to reach their school. Where schools are unable to open, they should try to minimise disruption by informing parents, providing as much notice as possible, using their website, ParentMail, local media or other suitable arrangements.

The DfE advises that head teachers should not be worried about the impact that remaining open may have on their attendance statistics. When a pupil cannot get in because of severe weather, the school can use attendance code Y, which means that the pupil’s absence will not affect the attendance statistics.

The Department of Health (DoH) has published an annual cold weather plan for England since 2011. It is part of the wider suite of measures which the DoH and NHS are taking to protect individuals and communities from the effects of severe winter weather. The plan provides advice for individuals, communities and agencies on how to prepare for, and respond to, severe cold weather as part of winter planning.

On some occasions schools may need to close early because of rapidly deteriorating conditions and problems with transport home. Schools should have systems in place for alerting parents in such circumstances.

When schools have been closed due to adverse weather conditions or staff have been unable to get into school, they should not be expected to make up the time at a later date. Any attempts from employers to recoup this time, for instance through a loss of planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time, is unreasonable and should be resisted at school level. The school closure should be considered a necessary response to potentially unsafe conditions and staff should not be penalised for this when normal arrangements resume.

Asbestos risks associated with flooding

Severe cold weather can cause pipes to freeze; this can have implications for schools both before and after the period of cold weather. For instance, consideration will need to be given to school closures where frozen pipes have caused a loss of heating and hot water, or have rendered facilities such as toilets unusable.

Thawing can cause frozen pipes to burst and lead to flooding. Flooding and water ingress in areas where asbestos containing materials (ACMs) are present or potentially present could lead to asbestos fibres being released. A variety of materials within the school that are liable to water damage may contain asbestos, including ceiling tiles, walls, floor tiles, air cabinet heaters, insulating boards and toilet cisterns.

Therefore, it is vital that access by staff and pupils to any areas of schools affected by flooding and water ingress is restricted until it is confirmed whether asbestos is present.

If the employer is unable to confirm whether ACMs are present, it should be presumed that they are. Where ACMs have been damaged by water ingress, the employer must employ a licensed contractor to undertake the necessary remedial works, which is likely to include removal of the damaged ACMs. Air testing must be conducted by an appropriately qualified contractor before the areas of the school in question can be re-occupied.

Frequently asked questions

During any prolonged spell of severe cold or snowy weather, issues arise on which members and school health and safety representatives need advice, particularly in relation to school closure. The questions and answers set out below deal with some of the most common questions which are raised.

Related content

Advice Group of children screaming during storytelling
Voice care for teachers

Advice for teachers on voice care, including spotting problems, simple preventative measures and information on how and when to seek appropriate specialist help

Advice Hand washing
Hygiene control in schools

Advice on the appropriate hygiene procedures for schools which will help to prevent the spread of blood-borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis A, B and C, and conditions such as dysentery.

Advice Group of school children raising hands in classroom
Facts about asbestos in schools

At least 86 per cent of schools contain asbestos, all of it old and much of it deteriorating. Unless your school was wholly built after 1999, it is extremely likely that it contains asbestos.

Advice School building
Asbestos in schools

Advice on dealing with asbestos problems in schools, including the law on asbestos removal and management in schools.