Individual schools took the decision to close schools in snowbound areas as soon as it became clear that transport chaos would cause a staffing crisis.
About 100,000 parents woke to find text messages from their children's schools telling them that there would be no classes using new technology adopted by hundreds of schools to communicate with families instantly.
With roads blocked and trains cancelled, many are expected to remain closed for a second day.
Businesses are braced for the knock-on effect as parents struggle to find childcare at short notice, preventing many from making it to work.
Although it was Local Education Authorities which announced the closures, the decision was made by individual schools based on whether they would have enough staff to care for the pupils safely.
With the South East and the Pennines bearing the brunt of the heavy snowfall yesterday schools in those areas were the first to close.
The Home Counties around London saw the worst disruption but, with up to 18 inches of snow forecast for Tuesday in Northumberland and North Yorkshire, the emphasis shifts north today (tues).
In Essex alone around 400 schools were closed - about three quarters of the total for the county - with an almost identical number shut in Surrey and about 160 affected in Kent.
In Hampshire more than 500 cancelled classes for the day while areas such as Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Birmingham and the Thames Valley also saw scores of closures.
In the capital, Westminster and Haringey were among the worst affected boroughs with 50 to 60 schools closing their doors.
Further north, tens of thousands of children in Yorkshire and Northumberland had an unexpected day off with Pennine areas seeing the most disruption.
About 180 schools were closed across the various local authorities within Yorkshire and almost 120 in the North East.
The pictures was the same across the mountains where 123 Cumbrian schools were forced to close and about 25 affected in Lancashire and Greater Manchester with a further 50 in Wales.
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "We would hope that head teachers can keep schools open while it is safe for them to do so but decisions about closure have to be taken locally by those who know the local conditions."
Ambulance services across the country said that they were responding to only “life threatening” calls as they struggled to deal with injuries and road accidents.
Hospitals also cancelled non-urgent operations as they worked to cope with a rise in the number of accident and emergency patients and staff shortages.
Ambulance trusts in London, the West midlands and the South East asked patients whose conditions were not urgent not to call 999 and to visit their pharmacy or a NHS walk-in clinic instead.
The London Ambulance Service said that the number of 999 calls it dealt with had risen “quite radically” as the snow fell.
A spokesman said that the service was “only dealing with life-threatening calls at the moment” adding that patients were not being told to make their way to their local accident and emergency department because those were also under pressure.
In London, where the snow closed many transport networks making it difficult for staff to get to work, operations were cancelled at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Foundation Trust, Great Ormond Street Hospital, Barts hospital, The Royal London hospital and The London Chest hospital.