June 2020. As lockdown rules are lifted, what does this really mean for UK schools?

Friday June 12th, 2020

Welcome to your June update. As lockdown rules are lifted, what does this really mean for UK schools? We’ll discuss how schools are preparing for a mid-June return for some students and look at schools’ plans for welcoming pupils back safely at the start of the new academic year in September. We’ve also got an exclusive interview for you with the Head of Harrow School Online, Heather Rhodes, which I’ll introduce in more detail below.

Pupils returning to school in June 

Although UK independent schools are not answerable to the government in the same way that state-funded schools are, in situations like this they act on government guidance in exactly the same way as their state counterparts.

So, for example, schools like Eton will be welcoming pre-GCSE (Year 10) and pre-A-Level (Year 12) students back to school from 15 June. In Eton’s case, this will be day studies only, no boarding facilities at this stage, but with plans to welcome all year groups back, on a boarding basis, from September.


Preparing for September

However, planning for a full September re-opening is challenging, not least because of emerging guidance subject to sudden change should the R rate increase or other related challenges. Eton, like many UK independent schools that offer full boarding, is faced with the additional challenge of managing the interactions of more than a thousand people 24/7, for several periods throughout the year.

Consequently, Eton is currently considering and planning for several different scenarios come September, so they can follow government guidance and feel confident they have the best systems possible to manage boys’ and staff safety whilst maintaining the high standard of teaching and extra-curricular opportunities for which they are renowned worldwide.

As well as safety, educational standards and logistics, Eton’s senior leadership team, many of whom are old Etonians themselves, have acknowledged the importance of traditional Eton rites of passage. The 260 boys who graduate from Eton this summer are possibly the first cohort in the schools’ 580-year history to miss out on such celebrations as the fourth of June (rarely held on 4 June, but a day of picnics, cricket matches, a boat procession and other quintessentially English activities on the first Wednesday after the spring bank holiday to mark former monarch George III’s birthday). Likewise, no Eton College versus Harrow School cricket match – one of the longest-running annual sporting fixtures in the world and the only annual school cricket match still to be played at Lord’s cricket ground in London.

No Henley Regatta, where crews from schools around the world join other rowers to compete in this famous five-day event with a royal heritage. Although some of these events cannot be rescheduled, Eton has committed to hosting all of its leavers’ celebrations when it’s safe to do so, in order that its 2020 graduates get to mark the end of their Eton career with their peers, staff, families and friends.


The Boarding Schools’ Association Covid-safe Charter

Many of the UK’s independent schools that offer boarding are members of this umbrella body. By adopting the charter, schools confirm they are fully compliant with UK government guidelines. When members welcome back the boarders in September, this means they will commit to undertaking the following.

All areas of schools and accommodation will be deep cleaned, isolation areas identified and testing procedures communicated to parents along with arrival procedures and restrictions in advance of the new academic year.

For overseas students, a named person following social distancing and other risk mitigation guidance will meet and accompany them on the most direct route to school, where they’ll receive a full briefing and have the opportunity to discuss any worries or concerns.

Whilst at school, all pupils will need to adhere to social distancing guidelines and follow hand-washing guidance. They will have the option to wear face masks or coverings and schools will ensure staff have the appropriate PPE to protect themselves and students. Schools also commit to providing additional hand sanitiser stations at various points throughout their premises.

To read the full charter, visit https://www.boarding.org.uk/userfiles/bsa/Covid%20documents/Covid%20Safe%20Charter.pdf

Virtual tours and open days

Most schools and all universities have historically offered open days to prospective parents, pupils and students. Although crucial to give potential attendees a sense of the atmosphere, a flavour of the teaching style and a sense of the establishment’s ethos – there’s a pretty much unanimous decision to move open days online in 2020/21. Many schools and universities were already offering virtual tours as part of the application package, so this particular transition probably hasn’t posed too much of a problem. The institutions themselves and the families learning more about them are already accustomed to researching online, at least in the initial stages of the process.

It is a shame not to be able to visit in person, as all visits have now been postponed indefinitely, but don’t forget that you can also gain a good insight into a particular place of study by talking to past and present students. Many schools and universities already offer this service, and we can put you in touch with the alumni of specific schools and universities if you’d find that helpful. Get in touch with us to find out more.

You can take virtual tours of various universities on the UCAS website: https://www.ucas.com/undergraduate/what-and-where-study/open-days-and-events/virtual-tours) 

Harrow School Online

I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Heather Rhodes, Head of Harrow School Online. We couldn’t meet in person of course, but we recorded our video conversation for you. Heather covers all aspects of the new online offer from one of the world’s most prestigious schools, including the practicalities of taking exams, how the qualifications will be viewed by top universities and how Harrow’s take on distance learning will work in practice for students.



At the forefront of online education

Heather explains how Harrow’s plans to provide an online offer pre-date Covid-19 and form part of the school’s vision to be at the forefront of the online education trend and to shape its future. One of their key objectives is to make a high quality UK education more accessible, especially to overseas students.

Forming a partnership with Pearson, a British-owned education company operating across 70 countries and running online schools in the US for the last 20 years, Harrow School Online combines several elements crucial to successful online education. On the practical side, Pearson has exam centres across Russia and the school will support students to access their nearest centre to sit their exams. Harrow School Online students in China can sit exams at their nearest British Council Centre. Wherever students sit their exams, their certificates will reference Harrow School Online. Heather also reassures us that Oxbridge, Russell Group and top US universities confirm they will view and treat an A Level grade from Harrow School Online in the same way they would an ‘offline’ qualification.

On the pedagogical side, Harrow School Online has worked with Pearson to adapt the online offering to take into account the intensive nature of online learning. Heather makes the point that unless teachers are trained to give classes and tutorials online, it can be hard to create the best environment for optimum learning. You can’t expect to generate an equivalent level of interaction by simply moving a course designed to be delivered in person, onto a virtual platform. She explains how Harrow School Online has worked hard to ensure they can maintain the heritage of more than 400 years of outstanding teaching, whilst embracing the principles of the best online education.

The benefits that Heather outlines include the completely flexible nature of the course. Students can apply at any point during the year to start their studies and schedule their recorded lessons when they feel most focused. As you can imagine, this represents a huge departure from traditional education – and one which recognises and adapts itself to the needs of individual students. It caters for students who are home-schooled (beyond the current coronavirus situation) and for families who travel but would prefer to remain together whilst accessing a top UK education for their children.

Another benefit is evidence of independent learning and self-motivation. Universities rate these skills highly – and online education testifies to your ability to learn independently and motivate yourself outside the classroom. Harrow School Online have also focused on a programme of extra-curricular activities, because they know that it’s this all-round approach to education that students, their families and higher education establishments hold in high regard. It’s one of the things UK independent schools do best – and Harrow School Online has taken this ethos online too.

Watch the video with Heather to learn more about Harrow School Online. If you’d like to find out more about this exciting new development for UK independent education, please get in touch for a no-obligation chat.

I wish you and your family all the very best with the next phase of our gradual return to ‘normal’.

Until next time…