ANGRY parents have blasted a headteacher who forced nursery children to freeze outside a warm school in driving snow – in case their wet feet made the floor slippy.
The children were refused entry to Murrayburn Nursery for between ten and 15 minutes by head Michael Urquhart, despite the heavy snow, freezing temperatures and high winds blasting the school.
The temperature dropped as low as minus five in the Capital yesterday as biting winds of up to 30mph helped make it the coldest day of winter weather this year.
Parents said Mr Urquhart quoted health and safety issues for not allowing around 15 four and five-year-olds to shelter from the unforgiving cold snap.
But things became so heated that Martin Duff, 36, who took his four-year-old daughter Hayden into the foyer to warm up by a radiator, said the head threatened to call the police unless he left the building.
Mr Duff said: “I took her into the foyer to stand beside a radiator and Mr Urquhart ordered me to go back outside. I said we’d do no such thing and I admit, in the heat of the moment, I called him an idiot. He then threatened to call the police and have me banned from the school.”
Witness Samantha Reid, 42, said: “I saw Mr Urquhart marching up to Martin and telling him to remove himself from the school. I’ve been unhappy about the way he has spoken to parents in the past and this was another example.
“He speaks to the parents the same way he speaks to the children.
“What makes the whole thing worse is that the school runs a programme called Cosy Start, which lets the P1 and 2 pupils play inside from 8.30-9am if the weather is bad, yet they’re forcing even younger kids to stay outdoors.”
One mother, who did not wish to be named, said: “When there was bad weather last week and we didn’t want the kids waiting outside they let us take them into the canteen.
“I asked Mr Urquhart why we couldn’t do that this time and he put it down to health and safety again – apparently there is a reading group in there just after 9am and he didn’t want the floor wet.”
Other parents said that the head later added that letting in the nursery pupils could have “upset” special needs children entering the building at the time and claimed he scolded parents for bringing their children to nursery too early. Nursery children start at 8.55am – ten minutes later than the primary pupils - but many parents with children in both the nursery and school have to bring their children together and hang around for the second bell.
One city GP said the children could have developed mild hypothermia due to their enforced exposure.
She said: “Small children can become dangerously cold very quickly.
“This was extremely irresponsible.”
Local Conservative MSP David McLetchie said the incident was a case of health and safety gone mad.
He called the reaction of the headmaster “over the top”, adding: “He should apologise to the parents concerned.”
An Edinburgh City Council spokesman said the issue will be addressed.
He said: “During bad weather the playground can be dangerous due to ice and snow which limits access to the school and can lead to congestion at the entrance when access via other doors isn’t possible.
“We will be working with the school and the Parent Council to address issues raised to help ensure a practical approach is reached whereby all pupils can have access to the school at opening times.”
The Murrayburn Parent Council declined to comment when contacted.