September Feature: The independent schools that (quietly) helped out during lockdown
Chris King reflects on the efforts schools made to contribute during the Covid-19 lockdown, stressing they would do it all again if duty called
Well we should, shouldn’t we? Given that so many of our schools are charities, it would be natural to assume that independent schools stepped up to the plate and made their contribution to tackling the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
And indeed they did - and very largely in an understated manner - simply because it was the right thing to do.
Evidence? Let’s start with supporting the children of key workers. Some IAPS schools regularly had well over 100 children in school throughout lockdown including the Easter holidays. Town Close Prep School in central Norwich continued to educate over 170 children of all ages throughout lockdown and the Blue Coat School, Birmingham, similarly had well over 100 pupils in school, many of them children of medic families.
"There has been no great fanfare for this."
There has been no great fanfare for this either during or following lockdown; they just got on and did it to support the local community in the enforced adverse conditions.
When the PPE supplies seemed to be grossly inadequate, many independent schools grabbed the brief and manufactured gowns and face masks to supply local healthcare settings. Design and Technology departments in such schools became mini factory production lines, making a difference for their local community.
Initially via the ISC, and then directly, IAPS made an offer to the education secretary to host summer schools for children who had experienced disruption to their education. The fact that the government did not respond to this offer was an opportunity missed but, nonetheless, some schools went ahead anyway and opened their doors to children not normally on their roll. The Perse Junior School in Cambridge is one such school who supported their local community in this way.
Many independent schools, including IAPS prep and junior schools, play an important part in their local economy. In Taunton and the surrounding area, for example, there is a grouping of very long-established independent schools. Cumulatively, they are major employers and financially they are linked to the health of many businesses who supply goods and services to those schools. Although normal demand may not have been possible to sustain, schools have been very conscious of the need to support other local business by paying invoices due and keeping links open where they could in areas such as IT hardware and software support.
"Many independent schools play an important part in their local economy."
It’s true that many schools are important to their immediate economy but they are also very visible in the local community. Acutely aware of this, governing bodies supported employees in shielding themselves or those closely related to them and took every step to ensure they minimised the risk of the spread of the virus in their community. In preparing to open again for the autumn, the risk assessments for schools located in buildings right at the centre of the town – such as Uppingham - have included every possible angle to give local residents confidence the school is doing all it can to avoid the spread of Covid-19.
Nick Bevington, headmaster of Town Close Prep School, Norwich said: “We realised the significant effect lockdown and school closure would have on children and families across the country and the vital role schools like us needed to play to ensure critical workers could continue to work and all children could continue to learn and be connected pastorally.
“We remained physically open for all children where one or other parent was a critical worker, with 185 children registered on this list, whilst delivering lessons live to those at home using Zoom. Resources were shared as usual through our VLE or emailing parents of very young children. We also temporarily admitted a small number of children from other local schools and nurseries that were not able to look after children of critical workers, which was vital in ensuring that frontline medical staff were able to continue delivering care during the crisis.”
"You will not have read about all this in the national media."
During the lockdown, Beachborough Prep in Buckinghamshire fired up its laser cutters and 3D printers in its Technology, Engineering and Design (TED) Suite to produce over 1,000 visors for local hospitals, doctors and NHS workers.
Headmaster Christian Pritchard said: ‘This was all about giving back to the local community. Our children and staff are so fortunate to benefit from access to the latest state of the art technology resources at Beachborough that, as a non-profit making charitable foundation school, we wanted to give back and help others. “A dedicated team of staff and children worked hard to produce these much needed visors and the feedback from the NHS and our local community has been both tremendous and humbling.”
You will not have read about all this in the national media. Schools have just got on with doing what they should do. There are no claims that independent schools had a complete monopoly on these actions but they do deserve to have their positive behaviour acknowledged.
And I’m sure, should the need arise again in the coming months, they would rise to the challenge again.
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