We need to talk about boarding
The start of the new term amid the ongoing covid pandemic will raise some very serious questions for boarding schools
As boarders return to the UK from many different countries, some will be subject to different quarantine rules to others and some may initially need to be segregated from others. But who looks after these pupils and do they all have to be socially distanced from each other?
How many boarding staff can be given such duties, knowing that they may need to self-isolate in the future? Can ‘bubbles’ be created? Will this require duplicate sets of cleaning staff, catering staff and medical staff? Are there enough buildings and spaces, and will they require costly modification?
How about the day pupils? How will their parents feel about their offspring living alongside pupils not just from different areas of the country, but also overseas? Some schools may have to take the decision that it is more economically viable to ask the overseas pupils to take a further extended holiday rather than put in place the precautions which have an impact on the salary bill. And that is assuming there is sufficient room in the school to put measures such as quarantine in place.
However, looking ahead, this could be short-sighted and those schools able to welcome such pupils back may well find themselves better placed for recruitment in the future. However, those for whom a return is very difficult, either because of the situation of the school or because of restrictions placed on them by governments, distance learning may have to be extended to retain pupils.
Once again, the schools which will succeed will use these unprecedented difficulties to showcase how well they can cope and support their families. These are the ones who will eventually ride the storm, and continue to attract pupils in years to come. This is the market they should be most concerned about – they can plan for 12 months and two years’ time and to ignore this planning is potentially disastrous. New ideas, such as using existing and returning pupils, or even alumni to mentor those unable to return to school, will make pupils still feel like valued members of the school, albeit on the other side of the world.
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