School principal: I will only close if there is no other choice

Belmont Nursery School principal Jennifer Marshall
Belmont Nursery School principal Jennifer Marshall

Almost 300 NI schools closed on Wednesday because of bad weather, but one school which did decide to stay open was Belmont Nursery in Londonderry, whose principal said she was mindful of the pressures faced by working parents.

Jennifer Marshall, who was recently awarded an MBE for services to education after more than two decades in her role as Belmont Nursery principal, said she would endeavour to keep the school from closing until she no longer had any choice.

Despite living on a country road some seven miles from the school gate, Mrs Marshall said she always does her best to make it to the school before deciding whether to close for the day.

“I understand that it is difficult for some parents, who might live in areas where there are a lot of hills to make it in, but I don’t think I am putting any pressure on those parents who can’t make it by keeping the school open,” she said.

“But, I am also very aware of parents who are working and who might not have childminding facilities available at the drop of a hat. It is difficult for them.

“Normally I try to get in to the school regardless, because it is very difficult for me to sit here in Eglinton and close a school in Derry because of ice and snow.

“Unless it’s really dangerous for parents to get here, I would stay open, because we have a lot of parents who walk to the school as well.

“We are lucky in that respect because we are just off a main thoroughfare and the road is always gritted, so it would have to get quite a bit worse before we would have to close.

“We have three or four members of staff who are travelling from rural areas but, as much as I don’t like driving in it, we don’t like to miss a day.”

She added: “You just have to get on with it. We are country girls!”

Asked what might prompt her to close the school for the day, Mrs Marshall said: “If we don’t have heat, or electricity, or if we have frozen pipes and we don’t have water, it is beyond our control.

“During the last very bad weather four or five years ago we had burst pipes so we didn’t have any water. We had no toilets, so there wasn’t anything we could do. We had to close.

“If there was any sort of danger to the safety of the children or of the parents in getting to the school, then again I wouldn’t have much choice.

“In my view keeping the school open isn’t putting pressure on those parents who simply can’t make it, but it keeps the pressure off for the parents who can make it.”