Stefan Drew, FHE Marketing Consultant

Following on from my recent feature on The Impact of Snow Days on Learning and Financial Viability I note that all schools were open on Easter Monday to make up for the lack of teaching due to the recent snow.

Far fetched?

No, it’s perfectly true. Schools in North Carolina were running as normal on Easter Monday to make up for lost teaching time due to recent snow days.

Don’t All American Schools Open on Easter Monday?

No. Most states don’t celebrate Easter Monday with a federal holiday. But North Carolina is an exception to this rule, they normally take a holiday; except when they need to make up time lost to snow.

It’s Not Really About America or Easter Monday

But making up for lost teaching time isn’t really about America, Easter Monday or any other holiday. It goes far deeper than that. It goes to the very core of our values, fairness and the law and it affects both schools and colleges.

Before moving onto the FE situation lets first think about schools. We can argue about what the purpose of education really is but I’m sure most of us would accept that as well as educating our children in the 3Rs, and a few other subjects, school also has a role in establishing values.

So, as well as owing our children their full entitlement to education we should be making it clear to pupils that they can’t just skip school. For example, on the basis that they are missing valuable teaching days, we don’t allow their parents to take them out of school for a holiday. So how can we argue that days missed due to bad weather don’t need making up?

This isn’t an argument about a single day off. Looking back over my life I realise that in January and February 1963 I missed weeks of schooling. The weather was the coldest since the 1600s and at Herne Bay the sea froze for a mile out to sea. In Oxford it was so cold that, on January 22nd, a car was driven across the frozen Thames. In the south west we had 20-foot-deep snow drifts. And it wasn’t just mainland Britain; the Isle of Man suffered blizzards with winds speeds of up to 119 mph.

So, in extreme conditions snow could mean no school or college for prolonged periods.

So how can we instil values around the importance of education and learning, personal and societal responsibility plus a host of other things if we do not insist that lost time is made up?

One way might be to follow the example of the Fuse School organisation. FuseSchool is a global education charity, with 130,000 subscribers, that makes animated, bitesize videos covering a range of subjects. They also excel in taking the best teachers and recording their explanations into bitesize audios.

FuseSchool is known to me via their overseas work. Especially recent work in Cape Town where they taught Algebra via lessons downloaded on to low cost mobile phones. I’m planning a full article on FuseSchool in future but, in the meantime, consider this. If they can do this why can’t FE start using these teaching methods? They could be used on Snow Days initially and perhaps extended across the curriculum over time. Some of the current FuseSchool material would suit FE courses, but it’s likely that new material would be needed for vocational areas. Producing it seems to me to be something that the AOC or the Awarding Bodies might want to take a lead in rather than individual colleges. Working in conjunction with FuseSchools might make sense as well.

FE Faces A Legal Challenge

In recent months we’ve seen cases brought against universities where students claim they have been short changed. In some cases the claims have focused on teaching quality and the absence of tutors.

Where students pay for their education, they are consumers. The law is clear that a contract exists between consumers and sellers, sometimes its explicit and some time implicit. But where a course is advertised on a provider’s website, or in a prospectus, the consumer will argue that course dates and often the contact time is clearly or implicitly stated.

It therefore stands to reason that this is what the consumer expects and is arguably entitled to. Individuals and employers may well therefore decide that if they have not been delivered a full course then they have the right to a refund. And in the worse case scenario, perhaps where a student fails an exam, may well blame the provider and claim they are in breach of contract.

You may think this is unfair where bad weather has caused the closure; but what is your strategy for delivering a full entitlement? It might be that you offer an online option with a tutor at the end of a phone, a VLE or social media. Or it might be that you decide the logical way forward is to add bad weather days into your timetable.

I don’t believe we can ignore this issue. In a court it might be very hard to justify not opening or replacing lost teaching time.

Take a recent example when a local college closed. The college decided that for health and safety reasons they would close, and I cannot fault their actions. But children’s nurseries local to the college remained open and I wonder how a barrister would present this in court. Even if the decision to close was accepted by the court, the PR around this could be an issue. And if the time was not made up then I believe it is likely that the consumers would be deemed to have made a case against the provider.

I don’t envy providers having to make these decisions. It can’t be easy. But I believe they now need to seriously consider their strategy for snow day closures of various lengths.

Stefan Drew, FHE Marketing Consultant

About Stefan Drew: Stefan was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and for over a decade has consulted with colleges, universities and private providers in the UK, Europe, Africa and the US. 

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