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【The Standard】A round of applause for UK independent schools

Boarding 101


After weeks in lockdown and the severe illness and then recovery of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the UK is now moving onto a new phase as it deals with the Covid-19 pandemic and is feeling more optimistic.

The news concerning the country’s independent schools is now generally more positive too.

Schools are now actively contacting me and sharing their upcoming safety measures and policies, keen to broadcast as much information as they can to parents in Hong Kong and Asia.

Heads are determined to make sure that everyone is clear on exactly what is happening and to provide plenty of much-needed reassurance at this time.

It is important for parents in Asia to bear in mind what the UK’s staff and teachers have faced and to be forgiving of schools if everything has not always been perfect or if communication has sometimes been slow.

Teachers, registrars and heads in the UK have been through a really tough time since March.

This period should have been their hard-earned Easter holiday, but they’ve had no holiday whatsoever as they’ve dealt with the numerous issues that have arisen because of Covid-19 and the very sudden closure of schools.

One of the most important matters has been, of course, the public exams that students prepare for over two years to sit. A-levels, in particular, are crucial since universities base their offers of places on the condition that students achieve certain A-level grades.

To disrupt A-levels at this time because of school closures could mean disrupting a student’s entire future. That is not only a difficult problem for teachers to work out how to solve but one that carries a heavy psychological burden too.

Then there has been the problem of rapidly creating online learning solutions to roll out both nationally and internationally.

How do you get 1,000 children to be at their computers on time for online learning every day? How do you get around time differences? What about the firewalls in mainland China? Does everyone have the technology at home? Does everyone have Zoom and a fast enough internet connection? And how much studying and homework is it reasonable to set? Too little and parents won’t feel they’re getting good value for money; too much and you could risk increasing the stress on children at an already stressful time.

Students’ mental wellbeing, in general, is another issue that schools have had to handle.

Remember how much boarding schools are about a shared social life and big events such as speech days.

Think of the sixth formers who, after five or seven years living at a school, are looking forward to a formal send-off in the form of a ball, a graduation ceremony and whatever other events are part of the normal school calendar. All of a sudden, these events were canceled and nobody could say when school life would resume. This had a huge psychological impact on students for whom school is the center of their lives.

Don’t forget that teachers in the UK have their own lives to manage too.

Many have young families to look after. The UK is not like Hong Kong where it’s common to have helpers. And many families live nowhere near either set of grandparents, so they cannot be called in to help with childcare either.

Single teachers without children have had their own difficulties since they have faced the isolation of lockdown and social-distancing alone, only able to virtually contact their friends and family.

Overall, it’s been an incredibly taxing time for UK teachers and these are just some of the issues that they’ve worked through and are continuing to work through right now.

The pressure on them all has been immense and they are real supermen and superwomen who deserve an absolutely enormous round of applause.

Parents, we should understand that teachers are only human; and if you’re still waiting to hear back about places for next year, or any other matters, please try to be patient and forgiving.