Britain's independent schools vow to reopen in September

UK's international boarding schools are introducing strict coronavirus monitoring measures in preparation for autumn reopening

epa07961997 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, 31 October 2019. Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn are set to unofficially kick off their general election campaigns.  EPA/ANDY RAIN

Britain’s independent schools are preparing to fully reopen in September “come what may” and disregard government lockdown guidance.

It comes as fee-paying parents have backed initiatives by the leading institutions to introduce their own track-and-trace systems, which would see students’ temperatures carefully monitored when they return.

More than 1,200 children from the Middle East attend boarding schools in the UK.

Despite the UK closing all schools in March as part of its coronavirus lockdown procedures, a High Court document, submitted by the government in response to a legal challenge concerning the policy, has revealed that it was only a "request, not a direction" for schools to close.

"The secretary of state has not exercised his powers to make a closure direction in respect of any school,” it states.

Independent schools are now set to rely on the document when negotiating the reopening of their schools with insurers.

The chairman of the Independent Schools Council, Barnaby Lenon, says the decision to reopen schools in September should lie with individual head teachers.

"I quite understand that trying to impose government rules on an entire nation is inevitable in the early days of the withdrawal from lockdown," the former headmaster of Harrow School told the The Telegraph newspaper.

"But from September, they should be relying on the good judgment of heads, all of whom will have carried out risk assessments."

He said there was now a "significant demand" among members to be given a greater degree of flexibility on how they intend to reopen.

One governor said schools "could have legally and safely opened this term" and says they “definitely” will in September.

The Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA) says its schools have already been “successfully” checking pupils for coronavirus symptoms and has issued guidance to schools to conduct regular temperature checks.

It has introduced a Covid-Safe Charter for schools to sign up to.

“Our international sources indicate that schools need to be as robust as possible to give confidence to those returning,” Robin Fletcher, the chief executive of BSA, said.

“The BSA is aware that a large proportion of schools which are still operating are conducting checks successfully, and that they are mandatory in some countries. Many international pupils will certainly be experiencing such checks in their home country and expecting to see them when they return to school. At a recent BSA regional forum, a high proportion of schools were proposing to undertake some level of checking.

"Well over 100 schools have now signed up to the BSA charterwhich is very pleasing. Feedback from parents, pupils and agents has been particularly appreciative of the initiative, especially those in Asia where day-to-day expectations regarding the virus response have been somewhat different from parts of Europe."

The UK government has rolled back plans for all primary schools to return before the summer break and so far only pupils in Reception, Years 1 and 6 have been allowed to return, alongside Years 10 and 12 in secondary schools.

All secondary schools have been told they can provide a catch-up meeting for all pupils with teachers before the end of term.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has this week reiterated that it is safe for some pupils to return to school.

"I want to say to all parents whose children are eligible to return to primary school – and there's loads of them – I want to show you it is safe, and there is no need for your kids to miss out on their education. I hope they will go to school," he said.

Private schools are not subject to the Department for Education rules and could make their own plans for reopening.

They have remained open, teaching pupils remotely, and many pupils have continued with a near-normal timetable throughout lockdown.