Boarding schools in the UK have been advised to let students return home as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise – despite official guidance for schools to remain open as usual.
The Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA) warned its members – which include Eton College, Gordonstoun School and Cheltenham Ladies College – that schools could remain responsible for pupils for a “protracted period of time” if the government decided to close schools and boarders were then unable to get home.
“BSA advises therefore that where it is currently possible for boarders to return home; this should be expedited,” the association said in a statement.
“Where it is not possible, or parents do not wish this, because of risk in the home country, it should be made clear to parents that this is likely to be a long term arrangement.”
BSA chief executive Robin Fletcher told HuffPost UK that “many overseas boarders” studying in the UK had already left schools because of the threat of Covid-19.
“The chief priority for all boarding schools is the safety and welfare of boarders,” he said.
“In a situation where schools may be worried about staffing or caring for boarders who may develop symptoms, we naturally advise them to consider allowing boarders to return home, either in the UK or overseas.
Fletcher added: “We are aware that many overseas boarders at boarding schools have already done this.”
While Boris Johnson advised Brits on Wednesday to avoid all non-essential social contact in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus, with the official death count in the UK at 71, schools have been told to remain open.
Meanwhile, Francis Holland School – an exclusive fee-paying girls school in Chelsea – announced on Tuesday it was closing its doors because of coronavirus, slamming the government’s advice as “irresponsible” and “unhelpful”.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the government said that while closing schools would have a “substantial” impact on children’s education and the workforce, “the benefit to public health may not be”.
“Decisions on future advice to schools will be taken based on the latest and best scientific evidence, which at this stage suggests children are a lower risk group,” they said.
“The advice from Public Health England continues to be for schools to remain open, unless advised otherwise.”