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【The Standard】Why Asian parents should keep the faith with UK head teachers

Boarding 101


Over the past few months, there has been a great deal of worry among Asian families about the way the UK has dealt with Covid-19.

Many parents of international students at UK boarding schools feared the schools might not be safe and thought seriously about the academic future that they had mapped out for their children in Britain.

I can completely understand why this happened and I have been very vocal at times about certain aspects of the UK’s policy and the need for schools to act. This week, though, I would like to say that it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that head teachers in the UK are doing absolutely the right thing.

In a previous column, I applauded UK schools for all their incredible hard work and reminded parents of everything teachers have been dealing with, not only professionally but also personally.

Now, as the UK lockdown starts to ease, I am noticing a certain British characteristic coming through time and time again. It is a calm, level-headed and incredibly responsible attitude that should give international parents complete reassurance about the coming months and the longer-term future for the UK’s independent schools.

“Keep calm and carry on” is a phrase that first appeared on British motivational posters during World War II. It started to become popular again around the time I was at university in the UK and then went on to be printed on t-shirts, mugs and book bags. It was more just humorous, vintage fun than anything serious – nobody actually went around saying it.

However, the fact is that it does genuinely represent the British spirit. This mindset can definitely be seen in the way that UK schools have and are dealing with the pandemic as they make thorough plans for the next academic year.

It’s not just a British stereotype, it’s a way of approaching things that comes from centuries of political stability and strong traditions – the kind of traditions you see in independent schools that were founded back in 1440 (Eton College) or 1555 (Gresham’s School).

It’s easy to laugh at some traditions because many can feel ridiculous. Why would you call a teacher a beak? Why would you wear a straw boater in 2020? Why would a school bell be officially referred to as “ding dong?”

But these school traditions, like similar quirky UK traditions in law and the armed forces, are more than just gimmicks. They provide a link to the past and create a feeling of continuity that creates stability moving into the future, whatever comes along. Parents should not overlook this when reflecting on the UK’s approach to the pandemic and they should keep faith in schools and head teachers.

Yes, there are one or two exceptions. Some of the smaller schools have not always acted in the most team-spirited way. However, there is no question that the majority of UK head teachers and key figures in independent education have been brilliant and continue to be so as plans are made for the future.

Whether it’s by keeping parents informed of the latest school hygiene arrangements via my team at Britannia, or through their enthusiasm to communicate by video at our upcoming school fair – everyone from Caroline Nixon of the Boarding Schools’ Association to head teachers like Nick Gregory of Wycliffe College and Jonathan Cohen of Plymouth College have been and are being wonderful.

Just as it’s important for parents to look beyond league tables when choosing a school and to see the bigger picture, it’s now important for parents to look beyond the one or two issues that may have caused concern when the virus first hit the UK and see the British character at its best.