The week began in much the same way that the previous one ended; schools deciding to close their boarding houses, and students forwarding new travel arrangements. Our Guardianship Care team continued working across the weekend in order to ensure that all students were accounted for, whether travelling home, or remaining in the UK with a host family or at Relax & Revise.
All staff had now set up their home offices, in what would prove to be the first full week of everyone working from home. Zoom calls continued to take place twice-daily, with check in meetings in the mornings and evenings. All our usual meetings also took place as normal, but via video.
By the afternoon, it was confirmed that only a tiny handful of students would be attending our Relax & Revise programme in Cambridge. At this point, we must give a huge commendation to Michael Voice and his team at Cambridge Melchior College. Having already agreed to open early and stay open later in order to accommodate students once their boarding houses suddenly closed, they then agreed to still operate the programme with a small number of students, so that no students would be left stranded. We can't thank Michael and the team enough for the kindness and support they have shown, which has proved to be absolutely invaluable during this difficult period.
The day culminated with the daily update from the Prime Minister, which was keenly awaited by us all, in common with most of the British public. As was largely anticipated, it was announced that tighter restrictions were being put in place in order to curve the spread of the virus. This included people being prosecuted for leaving their homes unless under a few specific circumstances.
Once the new measures had been announced on Monday evening, some schools found it increasingly difficult to keep their boarding houses open and recommended that alternative arrangements were made for students if possible. This, along with rumours of impending airport closures, led to another influx of new flight details from students, as the majority faced a sudden scramble to get home.
There was still a reasonably large number of our students who were yet to provide any flight details, meaning they were facing the possibility of staying with our host families for some months. We once again have to praise our host families for the incredible flexibility and understanding they have shown so far. Plans have been changing by the day, often the hour, and families have been very patient with us. When you also take into account the uncertainty we are facing in terms of the start of the summer term, this is a huge credit to our families.
Many students had already arrived at their host families, and had spent what could be the first of several weekends there. Our Local Coordinators began contacting these students to check that they had settled in well, and to see whether any had managed to book flights or whether they would be with us for the foreseeable future. For those spending the Easter holidays in the UK, our safeguarding team began working on a more long-term communications plan for them, so we can ensure we are keeping up-to-date with them.
We would like to reaffirm to parents, schools, and agents that we are here to help. Now and always, no matter what the situation, we will never allow any students to be left with nowhere to go. You can trust us to find a solution for each and every one of them.
On Wednesday, the Guardianship Care Team began contacting students who had not let us know of their plans yet, to check where they were and ensure that they were safe. Grace and Hai, from our China office, also assisted with this, contacting many parents in China. By the end of the day, nearly all students had been accounted for, whether they were staying in the UK, or had managed to travel home.
Our Guardianship and Safeguarding teams got together to devise a communications plan for all our students, during Easter and beyond. This plan was created with the idea of keeping our students engaged, not only with us, but also with their schools and studies in the UK. It was decided that our Local Coordinators would stay in touch with all students, and our Head Office Team would be staying in close contact with all partner schools, so we would be able to relay any new information regarding term dates or home schooling provision to our students and their parents. Bright World would also be developing a range of interactive, motivational and team-building online activities, available to our students on our website.
We also hosted a student "hangout" on Wednesday afternoon with our students at Relax & Revise. Each student dialled in, as did their corresponding Guardianship Care Manager and Local Coordinator, CMC Principal Michael Voice, and some members of the Bright World Management Team. It was a great chance for everyone to catch up with each other, and to discuss how the students had been enjoying the programme so far. The only Local Coordinator who was not able to attend was Bridget Phillips, as she was (understandably) very busy in her other profession, as a nurse. Keep up the good work, Bridget!
As the end of the week drew closer, we were seeing that most students had successfully managed to depart the country. However, there were still many students who were yet to travel. Flight cancellations were becoming increasingly common, causing disruption to the plans of many. Some students even made it to the airport to then be informed that their flights had been cancelled, creating a situation which left them in limbo. Nonetheless, our Travel & Accommodation team were quick to respond, as always, with a solution. In most cases, these students simply returned to their host families, where they stayed until they were able to book new flights.
Our Accommodation and Travel Managers were also busy contacting host families who were currently taking care of students, to check in with them and make sure there were no problems. At a time when general anxiety is so high, it's important for everybody to communicate effectively, and often.
Another problem some students were encountering were the quarantine measures upon return to their home countries. This was particularly true for students returning to China, who were being told they would have to self-isolate in a government-approved hotel before returning home to their family. Though measures such as this do unfortunately seem necessary, it's such a shame to see our students being put through even more stress, when all they want to do is be at home. We will be periodically checking in on these students across their quarantine periods, to ensure they are comfortable and attempt to relieve any worries they may have.
On Friday it was announced that UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had tested positive for COVID-19. Similarly to the Bright World team and most other people in the UK, he would now be working from home.
We were also hit with the news that the North Terminal at Gatwick would be closing, which led to many more flight cancellations. Once again, we had to act quickly to make sure students could still be cared for by their host families. Our families continued to be superb in terms of their flexibility and sincerity. This large number of cancellations led to us keeping an even closer eye on all flights that were scheduled to depart in the coming hours and days. Part of this was to ask our drivers to carry out their own pre-departure checks before setting off on their journeys to collect students.
We feared that lots more students will unfortunately be left stranded in the UK, but we have provisions in place to ensure that each one is well cared for.