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28 May 2020
by Ferdinand Steinbeis

British Boarding Schools in Times of Corona: A Snapshot

Hello from London!
We hope that you and your families are keeping well.
It’s time for a proper update on covid19 in the UK and how it relates to British boarding schools.
At von Bülow Education, we’ve been busy finding out about what happens at boarding schools right now and what they are planning for the future. For this purpose we are continuously in contact with headmasters, admissions staff and boarding school pupils. Also, we are closely following the UK Departments of Health and Education and the British Boarding School Association (BSA) for any meaningful updates.
With the wealth of information we now have, we want to give you a snapshot overview of everything you need to know if you have a child at a boarding school at the moment or are planning to send one in September.
The below snapshot covers the following six topics:
  • The situation in the UK in general
  • Boarding schools providing remote learning
  • No school visits, only virtual tours
  • All schools are making plans for a September start
  • Quarantine before September and autumn school holidays
  • Securing a place for September without the financial risk
Important: the below information is based on what we know right now and will inevitably become outdated in the coming days and weeks. Therefore, please get in touch with us to get the most up-to-date information on info@buloweducation.com.
Clayesmore School - a peek through the front door
1. At the moment, the situation in the UK is far from great. But it is getting better.
At the time of writing (26th May), there have been 261,184 people who have tested positive with the coronavirus in the UK, 36,914 of which have sadly died.
The high number of fatalities is shocking, especially compared to countries like Germany.
The good news is that the infection and fatality numbers are continuously coming down as the below overview shows. It looks as if the worst of the pandemic is coming to an end.
Source: UK Dept of Health and Social Care
One encouraging consequence from this improvement is that schools across the UK will reopen for some year groups (Y1, Y6 and Y12) from the 1st of June.
Clayesmore School - nudes in the arts department
2. The gates might be shut, but school very much continues!
Since 20th March, British boarding schools have shut their doors to the world - only to reopen them online. Most schools worked flat-out over the Easter holidays to put together a comprehensive remote-learning programm and to train teachers in hosting classes using online platforms like Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams.
The overwhelming feedback from parents and pupils we spoke to is that the schools are doing a phenomenal job in providing a really great online learning experience. Pupils get a full day of school, starting with school assembly at 8.45am, continuing with academic classes, music lessons, even extracurricular activities and ending at 5pm.
One of our pupils at top-IB school Haileybury told us that she was learning how to plant vegetables on her balcony thanks to the school's expertly put together gardening videos.
Another pupil told us of the Sevenoaks School's orchestra playing Schubert's 9th symphony at a morning assembly - 30 pupils strong, via video-platform Zoom!
One parent told us how their son's participating in an elaborate treasure hunt staged by prep-boarding Walhampton, where he had to dress up as Sherlock Holmes and embarked on a quest to find exotic kitchen utensils.
Of course, no remote learning experience will ever be able to compete with the real thing, no matter how creative the schools get. Still, we commend the schools for trying their utmost to educate and entertain during these challenging times.
Clayesmore School - reception room, very 'zen'.
3. School visits are not possible at the moment. Virtual tours are an imperfect but valuable alternative.
With boarding schools very likely to remain shut now until the summer holidays, no visits will be possible before at least September.
As an alternative, most schools offer so-called virtual tours. For these you sign up, log on to a video-platform at a prearranged time and get shown around a school via live-camera. The tour is followed by a question-and-answer session with key staff. Whilst not comparable to a real school tour, you will get a good, first impression!
Here are some dates for upcoming virtual tours at some of our partner schools:
Ardingly College - Saturday 3rd October // Register here
Bedales School - Saturday 20th June // Register here
Eastbourne College - Saturday 6th June // Register here
Haileybury - Thursday 18th June // Register here
Repton School - Saturday 6th June // Register here
Sevenoaks - Wednesday 27th June // Register here
St Clare's School - Thursday 4th June // Register here
Wycombe Abbey School - Saturday 6th June // Register here
If you need any help booking a virtual tour at one of the above or any other school, we are happy to assist you. Please get in touch via info@buloweducation.com
Clayesmore School - staircase in the main building.
4. All schools are making contingency plans for September and beyond
With the situation in the UK improving daily, all schools we spoke to recently are optimistic about being open from the beginning of term in September.
Needless to say, the schools expect to have to make substantial changes to guarantee the continued safety of pupils and staff. Luckily most of our partner schools are in rural locations where only very few cases of corona infections were reported. Also, with big campuses and small classes, social distancing will be much easier at British boarding schools than at most other schools.
Here is a summary of the most important things the schools we spoke to plan to do:
  • provide airport transfer for all international pupils to avoid use of public transport
  • guarantee social distancing in classes, during sports and in boarding houses. This might mean that certain full-contact sports won't be allowed
  • upgrade cleaning and hygene provisions: schools will deep-clean all spaces prior to school start; hand sanitizer, face masks and handgloves will be on offer
  • limit the number of people in one space with e.g. staggered meal times and online meetings for larger group events
  • provide the ability to test for covid-19 and trace contacts if necessary
  • provide isolation arrangements in case someone in the community gets infected
For more detailed information on what specific schools intend to do, please take a look at the BSA Covid Charter with a lenghty list of commitments that all member schools intend to fulfil come September.
Needless to say, you cn always get in touch with us any time also!
Clayesmore School - the school gardens.
5. At the moment the UK government is planning a quarantine.
On 6th May, the UK government announced that all international arrivals into the UK will have to self-quarantine for 14 days with immediate effect.
At the moment it is unclear until which date this will be required.
This requirement could impact pupils arriving after the summer holidays in September, exeat week-ends and half-term holidays in the autumn term.
Most boarding schools we work with are planning to open their boarding houses already in mid August so that overseas pupils can quarantine onsite before schools restart. The school Stonyhurst wants to take this even further and considers offering a two- week ‘summer camp’ style programme, with a blend of morning live and online lessons with activities in the afternoon.
If the quarantine requirement extends into the autumn it is very likely that boarding houses will stay open for exeat week-ends and the half-term holidays, too.
Clayesmore School - reception room.
6. The schools will allow for low-risk ways to secure a place for September
All schools are very understanding of families’ reluctance to fully commit to sending their child to a British boarding school at the moment.
As a consequence, most schools will let families reserve a place for September with the right to change their minds at a late stage without being penalized for it. The school Stonar, for example will accept cancelations as late as the 14th August, three weeks ahead of a supposed start of term! Stonar will even return the accepance deposit in full.
Alternatively, the schools always offer the possibility to defer to a later start date e.g. January 2021 or even September 2021.
Bottom line: the schools understand your concerns and want to be fair.
We sincerely hope that this snapshot overview is useful to you. Please never hesitate to get in touch with us for an update on any of the above. We are happy to help!
Stay safe!
Ferdinand Steinbeis & the von Bülow Education Team

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von Bülow Education
Holbrooke House
34 - 38 Hill Rise
TW10 6UA

Tel: +44 (0) 203 9534063
Email: info@buloweducation.com