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Lowestoft school closed amid ash chaos

PUBLISHED: 09:57 20 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:07 06 July 2010

A LOWESTOFT school is closed today, because many of its staff are caught up in the volcanic ash flight chaos.

The Ashley School is the only school in Suffolk shut today on the first day of the summer term.

A LOWESTOFT school is closed today, because many of its staff are caught up in the volcanic ash flight chaos.

The Ashley School is the only school in Suffolk shut today on the first day of the summer term.

More than half its teaching staff are currently out of the country and finding it hard to return home as a result of the problems caused by the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland grounding planes across Europe.

Meanwhile, schools elsewhere in Suffolk are facing a struggle to cover for the 159 teachers stranded around the world.

Norfolk County Council was unable to say how many children and staff were stranded abroad. It is urging schools to try to stay open where possible, but parents and carers are being advised to check its website for an update of the situation at their children's schools.

It has issued guidance to heads, which includes carrying out a full risk assessment to ensure that staff-to-pupil ratios are adequate, contacting the council with details of any staff absences so support can be offered, and prioritising exams and assessments.

The Easter break is a popular time for teachers to get out of the country but many have been stuck overseas after their flights home were cancelled, leaving schools with an almighty challenge on their hands.

Many headteachers have had to hastily arrange supply cover for the first few days of the new term, which starts this morning, and some have drafted themselves onto the frontline. And the problem does not just end with teachers - some schools are missing classroom assistants, dinner ladies, cooks or cleaners and are having an unwelcome beginning to the summer term.

Children are also set for an extended Easter break, with many stuck at airports or kicking their heels in hotels across the world while their classmates return to lessons.

Teachers at Farlingaye High School in Woodbridge have been called on to cover for 10 colleagues stuck in far-off climes, with the furthest away stranded in Singapore.

Headteacher Sue Hargadon praised her team for responding to the challenging circumstances and also thanked those members of staff that had made an “astonishing effort” to get back home in time for the new term.

She said: “There's a number of staff who have made a real effort to get back and have taken on an awful lot of extra expenditure by hiring cars and catching ferries and getting trains - it's fantastic that they have made that effort.

“We're doing what we can with supply staff coming in and other staff have very kindly said they can cover because it's under exceptional circumstances.

“Everybody is going to be looking for that same supply - I don't know how we are getting on with that. I think having a PD (professional development) day is really helpful.”

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said all schools had been given guidance on how to deal with the situation.

He said: “We continue to monitor closely the impact of the ongoing air traffic restrictions on schools in the county. Currently, only one school has been forced to close.

“A number of other schools have reported small numbers of staff being unable to return from trips away. Schools have plans in place to deal with equivalent situations and wherever possible, they will continue to operate as normal.”

A spokesman said all schools had been given guidance on how to daid: “We continue to monitor closely the impact of the ongoing air traffic restrictions on schools in the county. Currently, only one school has been forced to close.

Twelve staff and 50 pupils from Thorpe St Andrew School near Norwich are stranded abroad.

assandra Williams, the new headteacher of Thurton Primary School, near Loddon, is unable to start her new job because she cannot get a flight back from Hong Kong.

Schools whose staff are missing also large bills to hire supply teachers as cover.

Joanna Pedlow, head of Toftwood Infants School, near Dereham, said four of her staff were stranded. They include a teacher who is in New Zealand, and has been told she cannot get a flight home until May 1.

Mrs Pedlow said arranging cover for the absent teacher alone would cost more than £200 a day - money which the school must find from its own budget.

“It's going to cost at least £1,600 and it means I won't have that money to spend on other things. I will probably have to look at cutting the supply budget, which might mean we can't afford to send teachers on courses and could cause problems if we have staff off sick,” she said.

There is also uncertainty over whether teachers unable to make it into work will have their pay docked. Norfolk County Council said

pay and pupil absence were matters for individual schools and that decisions should be made locally.

Colin Collis, Norfolk secretary of teachers' union NASUWT, said: “I can't imagine that it's much fun for anyone stuck abroad with all the inconvenience and expense that entails to be worrying about whether they will lose any pay.

“It would be extremely unfortunate if members of staff were penalised for something beyond their control. I hope and expect schools will take a pragmatic and reasoned approach to the issue.”

The flight ban is also causing problems for other employers. Louise Zucchi, spokesman for Norwich-based Aviva, said: “We're a global company and at any one time we're always going to have employees in other places.

“We will do everything we possibly can to help and support people stuck overseas. We're clearly going to be as sympathetic as we can to that. It's just one of those things that we have to deal with.”

Meanwhile, health bosses have reassured patients they are attempting to maintain “normal health services” in the coming days.

Some doctors, nurses and practitioners - as well as patients - are stuck overseas, which has led to a small number of appointments and operations being cancelled in Norfolk.

Hundreds of thousands of passengers have been stranded around the world since the volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in southern Iceland begun erupting on Wednesday for the second time in a month.

European airlines are seeking financial compensation for a crisis that is costing the industry at least £131 million a day - and by some industry estimates up to £197 million a day.

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