Following the outbreak of Coronavirus (Covid-19), AEGIS has prepared this statement to advise schools and overseas parents on the response from us and our member guardianship organisations. This relates to support services being offered to international students from affected areas at UK boarding schools and who are under the guardianship of our members.
We continue to monitor the situation regularly and to follow the advice of Public Health England (PHE) and the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA). The latest advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all but essential travel to China. There are specific areas of concern now in Iran, and most recently Northern Italy.
The BSA release advice on the Coronavirus (Covid-19) to member schools every Monday. This advice includes the need for schools to plan for the safe accommodation of their overseas-based pupils over the Easter holiday.
AEGIS accredited guardianship organisations are offering UK accommodation options for students from affected areas for the Easter break and beyond if necessary. These options include homestay and, in some cases, residential programmes. AEGIS guardians are offering assistance to parents and students who are not under their care if they are in a position to do so.
Our advice, and that of our guardianship organisations, remains that students should stay in the UK for the upcoming Easter holiday and until travel restrictions are lifted. If students choose not to follow this advice and do return to an affected area, it is highly unlikely that guardians will necessarily be able to provide “quarantine” on their return within their homestay families.
This is due to the risk to host families themselves and the wider community. There are also insurance implications for both host families and guardianship organisations should they agree to take on students at risk of being contagious. It is essential to have discussions with the school and parents about this.
We refer to the PHE Advice Sheet on Self-Isolation. Self-isolation within a host family would not be possible as a child would need to separate themselves and live independently from the rest of the family. This scenario presents a difficult situation.
Advice sheet – home isolation – GOV.UK
Advice to schools
If students wish to return to their home country for the holidays, we ask schools to assist our guardianship organisations in advising their parents that they should return to the UK with them and stay with them for a period of 14 days before taking them back to school.
Guardianship organisations are willing to assist parents or a responsible adult who come back to the UK to locate suitable accommodation (within hotels or rentals) and with the logistics of online provisions etc., if needed.
Removal of students displaying symptoms of Covid-19
For the reasons stated above relating to the limitations of host families, guardianship organisations are not in a position to take over the care of students with suspected Covid-19. We are relying on schools taking the latest advice from the BSA.
“It is wise now to consider which areas of the boarding provision could best be used to help isolate pupils and contain any outbreak if this became necessary. Many schools will have already done this as part of epidemic and pandemic contingency planning.”
How schools can help guardianship organisations and Easter 2020
Guardianship organisations should now be working with schools to try to offer clear guidance to students and their parents on the best course of action for the Easter holiday. If students remain in the UK, guardianship organisations will be able to assist with accommodation.
Guardianship organisations will appreciate early indications about Easter travel arrangements. This will allow for funds to be collected and all arrangements appropriately made.
As passports/BRP cards are be held by the school, it is advised that consideration is given as to how a student would obtain their passport during the holiday, in the event of schools remaining closed after Easter, should the child wish to return home.
In the event of a school closure
In the event of a prolonged school closure, AEGIS guardianship organisations are following the advice published on 2/3/20 by the BSA and, as such would expect boarding houses to remain open and for students to stay at school:
BSA has been in touch with the DfE (for schools in England) to seek guidance on the position of boarders and boarding staff on site in school in the event of the Government ordering all schools to shut.
In response, Peter Swift, Head of Independent Education and School Safeguarding, has replied:
” We think that in these circumstances, the best thing would be for the school to remain open and the boarders to remain.”
Should a school not take this advice or be in a position to stay open then our contingency plan is below:
Healthy students must either:
a) return home
b) be looked after by their parents
c) be looked after by another responsible adult (family friend/relative 25 years+)
Guardians will support the school with the student’s forward planning, providing they have not been to, come from or had contact with anyone from an affected area, by providing host family accommodation for healthy students, while they make alternative accommodation arrangements. This may be with their regular long term host family or with their short term family.
If there is a school closure and students at the affected school are displaying symptoms and/or awaiting test results for Covid-19, guardians are unable to accommodate these students in host families, due to the risk to the host family and wider communities. Any such student will need to remain within the school’s isolation provision, until they receive the all-clear, or are admitted to a medical facility. If a student receives a negative test result, guardians will then accommodate them as stated above.
If a student develops symptoms after being placed in a host family and the school is closed, the guardian will instigate the proper testing and isolation procedures and accommodate the student until they are given the all-clear, or admitted to a medical facility.
If a student develops symptoms during a residential course, the responsibility for the care of the student will remain with the course provider.
Guardians working together with schools
The one clear message that we can give is that the guardianship organisation-school-parents relationship needs to build around communication and to support each other. There is no ‘one solution that fits all scenario’.
All schools have different set ups, as do the guardianship organisations and their host families. There will be some parents who can obtain visas etc and come over to support while others might be delayed or restricted.
Dr Tedros Adhanom (WHO) has said in the news that ‘the enemy is not the virus but fear, rumours and stigma’. This needs to be borne in mind while we deal with this situation. The WHO, PHE and DfE advice is the guidance that we are all following. We need to ensure that open supportive discussions are had between guardianship organisations and schools. It is vital to know what all parties can or cannot do in various situations.
Working together has to be the way forward.
We therefore need to consider every case by case and consider ‘what it looks like’.