Having enjoyed a break over the Christmas holidays, the Bright World team returned to work (at home) on 4th January. We started the year full of hope that 2021 would be better than 2020. Great news had been announced that the second vaccine, the Oxford-AstraZeneca, would start to be administered this week and that by mid-February the majority of the most vulnerable would have received their inoculations.
Many of our students had flown back from their holidays at the weekend and arrivals continued on 4th and 5th January. We all met, as usual, on Monday morning, via Zoom, for our Week Ahead planning meeting. Guardianship Care Managers reported full inboxes, with parents and agents emailing to change arrangements to fit into a so called 'staggered' school start.
This meant that some year groups would start, as planned, on 4th January (those with examinations this year) but then other year groups would start on either 11th January or 18th January to allow for a staggered testing of all students. The idea was that all students would have been tested by 18th January and schools would be full and would start in earnest at this point.
On Monday we had no idea that in a matter of hours everything we were discussing would be turned on its head and yet again we would be plunged into full lockdown with schools told to close.
Later that evening, Boris Johnson made a special announcement that all schools would be closing from 5th January. We were unaware as to what that would mean for our boarding students at this point.
Our Guardianship Care Managers and Accommodation and Travel Managers had been busy on Monday, 4th making changes to arrival plans; rearranging taxis and letting host families know things were changing to fit in with the new staggered start. However, with all schools closing their classrooms and moving to online learning on the Tuesday, most of this work now needed to be undone or changed.
We were not sure what was going to happen. Would schools open their boarding houses for those students who where already here or on their way back? Would students still make the journey to the UK? Would parents start sending their children home again like they did last March when schools closed?
It really was a very uncertain day. With so much confusion, and so many emails to read and action, it has taken us a fortnight to get all the answers and really find out where everyone is and what their short term intentions are.
Once everyone knew that schools were closing from 5th January, we had to find out what that meant for international students who were still in their home country or who were already in the UK or in transit.
For those in their home country, the message from schools was clear. They should stay at home and continue to learn remotely until after the February half term when we are told schools may reopen.
For those boarders already here in the UK, with family friends, with host families, or under parental care would the schools take them back?
UK Government guidance stated that for international students who were already in the UK or in transit, they could return to boarding and receive remote education from their houses. However, not all schools did re-open their boarding houses. We estimate that about half of schools opened their houses and have international boarders there now and half did not.
At this point in time, we have a very significant number of students who are in the UK but not in school. They are either with a Bright World host family, with their parents, who are also still here, or are still with the family friends they stayed with over Christmas.
We are registering those who are under 16 and in host families or with family friends for longer than 28 days with the Local Authority, as they are now in a situation where they are in Private Foster care. We are now also collating the information on the whereabouts of all students under our care in the UK so we can send this to schools who, in turn, can inform Local Authorities and the UKVI where appropriate. It has caused a lot of extra work but we are pleased to be able to help.
We suddenly heard on Friday 15th January that from Monday 18th January, ALL travel corridors would be suspended for at least 4 weeks and new rules have been introduced about testing before travel to the UK. This means that now ALL UK arrivals from any country need to have a negative Covid-19 test before they travel and must quarantine on arrival.
We do not have any arrivals this week but we do wonder how this will affect students' return when they do come back. For example, Hong Kong represents a high percentage of the boarding school international cohort and thus far they have not had to quarantine on their return to the UK. We wonder how Hong Kong parents will feel about this new requirement to quarantine...only time will tell.
We have no idea what will happen next. The questions on our mind are:-
All these questions and more are on our mind this week. We have, of course, no control over the outcome or indeed the answers. We will just have to wait and see and be ready to cope with any situation that faces us. We have done it before and we can do it again.
The team just want to continue to convey our message to parents, students and schools that we are here to help.