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COVID-19 BULLETIN - 19TH MAY 2020

Rossall once again leads the sector in terms of responding effectively to COVID-19

You may recall that in my last bulletin, I argued very strongly that boarding schools in the UK should adopt a common code of practice or charter detailing those protocols and provisions which should be put in place in order to respond effectively to COVID-19. I argued that:

All schools must put in place a credible roadmap to successfully navigate out of lockdown and, as a sector, we should be working together to agree sensible objectives and commonly agreed protocols.

Such a charter should serve to:

  • Ensure that our core purpose of education continues with minimum disruption
  • Standardise a high level of precautionary measures to be adopted by all UK boarding schools
  • Ensure the safest possible environment for our staff and day/boarding students
  • Bring the sector together with the common purpose of becoming an exemplar of best practice in terms of its practical response to COVID-19.

I concluded that:

It is not enough to adopt an ad-hoc piecemeal approach as a sector. It is my sincerest hope that organisations such as the Boarding Schools’ Association and HMC will discern the obvious merit in us coming together to act decisively and collectively. Anything less would constitute a disappointingly lacklustre response and would serve to undermine confidence within our sector. It is our collective duty to exercise our independence responsibly and for the common good. We should not simply be reactive to the vagaries and ambiguities contained within government directives. Collectively, we have the frontline expertise required to ensure that our sector leads the way in terms of protecting young people.

These were not just words and, as part of this initiative, Lucy Barnwell (Director of External Relations) worked to establish common ground with a number of other leading boarding schools equally committed to ensuring best practice within the sector. We are therefore delighted that the Boarding Schools Association announced yesterday that:

BSA is acutely aware that the profile of the UK and its COVID-19 response is a matter of great concern for both current and prospective parents of international students. Agents report that conflicting messages from schools are also damaging the perception of UK boarding schools in the eyes of those parents and children. As the UK moves towards a potential wider opening for all year groups in September, we are establishing the BSA COVID-SAFE CHARTER. This will be a series of steps schools will guarantee to take in advance of reopening, which will aim to reassure agents, parents and children that they have taken all reasonable measures to ensure their safety. This initiative is, of course, voluntary for schools, but is intended to be a strong statement that schools take the needs of their international students very seriously.

This is tremendous news and we are so pleased that the Boarding Schools Association are adopting a proactive stance to ensure that the sector is superbly well placed for the reopening of Schools.

From the beginning of this crisis, we have committed to adopting internationally recognised standards of best practice within educational settings. Whilst we have followed Public Health England’s advice and reflected carefully on the guidance issued by the World Health Organisation, we have never been satisfied to simply wait for directives or meet minimum requirements where we believe more rigour is required. The health and well-being of this community is our number one responsibility and this is why:

  • We were one of the very first (if not the first) UK boarding school to successfully isolate our boarding community and operate as two distinct schools (boarding and day)
  • We took the decision to close the School ahead of the government’s decision to close all UK schools.
  • We started teaching all timetabled lessons remotely just forty eight hours after entering lockdown.
  • We launched the Rossall Diploma for Year 11 and Year 13 students which has now been administered and invigilated remotely in forty one countries and ten different time zones.
  • We have remained open to the children of key workers and a small number of boarders, during which time we have created a secure site and put in place those practices and protocols which the vast majority of UK schools are only beginning to contemplate.

Throughout all this time, Adam Cawkwell, our Head of International Admissions (Asia and Australasia) has remained on the ground in Hong Kong and his reflections on best practice in schools that have reopened in Hong Kong, Mainland China and Taiwan have informed our planning at all stages. Adam is currently in conversation with the Boarding Schools Association as he has a unique perspective to share in terms of how Asian schools successfully adapted.

Whilst we welcome the move from the Boarding Schools Association, any charter must ensure a commitment to best practice as opposed to minimum expectations. Schools must prioritise investing in PPE, thermal imaging devices and testing kits. More importantly, they need to engender a culture which embraces and promotes the very highest standards in terms of personal/community hygiene and public health.

For the sake of clarity, here at Rossall we intend to adhere to the following commitments:

  • All staff and pupils (day and boarding) to receive daily health checks and thermal imaging scans.
  • All visitors and non-resident staff to complete health declaration questionnaires before being permitted to enter the school site.
  • A requirement that all individuals who have travelled overseas should not be permitted to enter the school site until a period of 14 days has elapsed.
  • All students should be permitted to wear facemasks in school and teachers and support staff to be encouraged to wear face masks.
  • PPE and cleansing stations to be installed across the School site so as to actively reduce the risk of transmission
  • All new and returning international students arriving in the UK for the Michaelmas Term to be offered the opportunity to arrive at School fourteen days prior to the commencement of term so that they are able to complete a period of quarantine in school whilst under the direct care of our pastoral staff and medical team.
  • Effective and appropriate online learning provided for those who may not be able to attend school in person for whatever reason.
  • Single occupancy rooms allocated to all boarders
  • The option for students to purchase private medical health insurance for the duration of a pupil’s stay in the UK.
  • A clear commitment to providing regular updates from the School’s Senior Leadership Team to all parents.
  • An assurance that in the eventuality that a student is not able to join us until November or January 2021 (due to travel restrictions in country of origin) that they will benefit from an outstanding quality of online education.

As we prepare to reopen year groups within the Junior School amidst a cacophonous backdrop of political posturing on the national stage, we remain resolutely committed to minimising risk and maximising every opportunity to promote the well-being of all within our wonderful community. As such I have just emerged from one of our weekly COVID-19 response meetings with a feeling of very real optimism. I am extraordinarily fortunate to work with such an outstanding team of colleagues who have been so proactive in terms of logistics, procurement, strategy and communication and I know that this approach will ensure the best possible of returns for all of our pupils in due course.