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【The Standard】How Covid-19 is affecting UK schools

Boarding 101


There have now been 13 cases of coronavirus confirmed in the UK. Clearly, the situation in Britain does not require schools to close for any period of time as they have done in Hong Kong. However, this does not mean to say that the UK’s private schools are totally unaffected by the coronavirus outbreak.


A major consideration for schools has been, of course, their international students from both mainland China and Hong Kong. While in some schools there may only be a few Chinese students to think about, in others, it’s now quite normal to have around 25 percent of students coming from China.


Recently, I was in touch with schools about the possibility of quarantining students who were returning to the UK from Lunar New Year celebrations.


Being quarantined is not something anyone would enjoy going through, but it is a very sensible precaution. I know what it feels like because when I was at my boarding school in the early noughties, I was quarantined along with my fellow Hong Kongers because of the SARS outbreak.


Another consideration for schools has been whether or not they should allow pupils back for the half-term holiday in mid-February and during the Easter break. The general policy, following the advice of the Boarding School Association, has been to not allow them back but to keep them in the UK.


While this is tough on children who miss their parents and parents who miss their children, it is a good, practical decision. The children will not actually be staying in the school, but will live with their guardians – the families they usually stay with for exeat weekends.


Then, schools have also had to think very carefully about whether or not to send their staff to school fairs in Hong Kong.


These fairs are special events at which British schools and prospective students and their parents can meet.


Some families come just to get information – to build a picture about what the different options are, what the school facilities are like, what the cultural differences are in the UK and so on. Others come so that their children can be assessed and so they can move quickly through the application process here in Hong Kong and secure places.


In short, these are very important events that schools do not want to miss out on. However, while schools may still wish to attend in spite of the coronavirus outbreak, the decision has not been an easy one for them to make.


In the case of the school fair that my company runs, the decision was made, with the schools, to postpone the event until March. I hope parents can understand why we have chosen to do this.


Yes, we are far from the outbreak center in Wuhan and many have tried to point out, politically correctly, that Hong Kong is a special region and is distinct from mainland China. However, we felt that postponement was the most sensible move to make at this time.


A factor that we felt was important to take into consideration was the point of view of the Chinese students who are having to stay in the UK over half term. They might well think: “If it’s safe enough to run a school fair, or for my school staff to attend a fair, then why isn’t it safe enough for me to return as well? Why can’t I just go home for a week or two?” Their parents might well be asking themselves the same thing.


Without doubt, it is a very difficult time for everyone at the moment; however, sending out a mixed message does not help matters.


I am sure, too, that parents will feel reassured knowing that schools put their pupils’ health and safety ahead of business.