In the news – volcanic ash causes school closures

It seems as if we’d only just recovered from ice and snow causing school closures, when – of all things – volcanic ash became the new culprit, causing travel chaos and once again locking staff and pupils out of their schools. We invite you to tell us how the crisis affected you and your school.

Just as many of us started to remember that the sun does actually shine in Britain from time to time, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano (don’t ask us to pronounce that!) decided to send the world an outrageous curveball – in the shape of ash, spewed into the stratosphere.

O-kay!

Sooooo, unless you’ve been living under a glacier yourself over the last week or so, you’ll know that the result was aircraft suddenly grounded across much of northern Europe, because it was feared particles could interfere with jet engines.  Naturally, this caused widespread havoc, leaving thousands of people stranded overseas following the Easter vacation.

Of course, the media was full of it for days, looking for someone to blame, reporting stories of hardship and struggling to keep up with what air navigation services provider NATS described on its website as a “dynamic” situation.

Supply and demand

“Demand for supply teachers soared after schools reported that as many as a quarter of teachers were stranded abroad,” reported the Daily Telegraph (19.4.2010), adding that many schools had been forced to cancel GCSE and A-level exams with students trapped overseas.

The Guardian reported that at least two schools, in Gloucestershire and Derbyshire, were forced to stay shut on the first day of the summer term because of serious teacher shortages.

“Three others – comprehensives in Birmingham and London – closed to 11- and 12-year-olds so that staff could concentrate on teenagers preparing for GCSE and A-level exams next month,” said the paper (19.4.2010).

Boarding schools hard hit

The Telegraph added that top boarding schools had been particularly hard hit, with foreign pupils unable to return following the holidays.

But it was the human stories behind the headlines that really brought home the severity of the crisis for those unable to get back home.

The Guardian reported that a hundred students were stranded in China unable to return to the UK for a fortnight; a teacher conducted an assembly to primary students via webcam, and in Hertfordshire some 352 children were stranded overseas on school trips in 11 countries, from Iceland to Hong Kong.

The bottom line

But the bottom line, as ever, was money, as stranded travellers wondered who would pay their hotel bills, and accountants predicted cancelled UK flights alone to cost airlines in excess of £200m per day. Meanwhile the BBC said Devon County Council might dock the pay of teachers stranded by volcanic ash – although the council said it was reviewing the policy “in light of the extreme circumstances”.

“We do not expect anyone who is abroad and unable to get back to have their pay deducted. Councils will be aware that the absence is due to unforeseeable circumstances which are entirely out of teachers’ control,” commented Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers on the NUT website.#

• How did the transport crisis affect teachers and pupils you know? Why not share your story with other Eteach blog readers?

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