Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) guidance update as of 17.3.20
17th March 2020

This week’s Covid-19 communication covers:

  1. New update as of 17.03.20 (A)
  2. Link to previous advice. (B)

Once again, things have moved on dramatically since our last guidance (March 09, 2020), and we advise schools to check regularly their respective Government, public health and WHO advice. 

As ever the update is issued by BSA in conjunction with ISC and our sister association BAISIS. BSA reminds all schools that it is not a medical, statutory or legal authority and any advice is given on that basis.

A.1: What has changed:

  • Cases in the UK have now risen to over 1,500 and more than 50 deaths (correct at time of writing). The number of cases is likely to be misleading as testing is not taking place in the same format as before but does represent a six-fold increase on the previous week. There have been significant increases in many European countries, especially Italy, France, Spain, Germany and Switzerland.
  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a statement on coronavirus on March 16 that appealed for all non-essential travel and social interaction to cease. To read the speech, click here.
  • Many countries have entered “lockdown”, including many in Europe. Some countries have considerable restrictions on those entering, although nationals will be allowed back in but even then some are being expected to quarantine. Flights have been significantly curtailed. Today, the European Commission has proposed a 30-day travel ban on non-essential travel within the EU.
  • The UK Government has withdrawn reference to category 1 and category 2 areas for travellers from particular countries having to self-isolate, as the general UK guidance now applies. 
  • Guidance given by the Prime Minister on March 16 asks everyone to stay at home if they have had one of two key symptoms, a high temperature or a new continuous cough, and for everyone in the household to "stay at home" for 14 days. This is, of course particularly challenging in a boarding school environment, and BSA has once again sought urgent clarification from the government on this, which we still await. In the meantime schools should assume that each boarding unit is a "household" and act accordingly. BSA appreciates that this is very challenging and probably impossible for some schools, but until clearer guidance emerges please conduct and follow the most robust possible risk assessment which addresses essential needs, such as food and water, but keeps everyone safe.
  • A ban on gatherings of more than 500 people has been introduced in Scotland. Similar measures are in place in many other countries (no gatherings larger than five in Austria) and Boris Johnson has said the government will ‘no longer be supporting mass gatherings with emergency workers in the way that we normally do.’ However, there are no such restrictions in England beyond governmental encouragement to self-limit social interactions.
  • Member schools are reporting boarders leaving early, and also partial and full school closures. BSA is now aware of a small number of confirmed cases in member schools.
  • UK Government advice for education settings in England was updated on March 16. To view the latest guidance, click here.
  • BSA reminds schools in England that there is a dedicated DfE helpline for questions about COVID-19 that aren't covered in its guidance: 0800 046 8687 (Opening hours: 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday)
  • BSA was informed last week that Cathay Pacific has arranged two special flights to Hong Kong this week. Please contact Cathay Pacific for details. However, those returning to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and some other countries will need to self-isolate for 14 days on return.

A.2: Wellbeing
Coronavirus and Wellbeing

March 19, 2020, 16:00hrs
BSA has organised a FREE webinar, Coronavirus and Wellbeing, presented by Ruth Hughes, a positive psychology coach with 25 years' experience in leadership roles in education and NGOs. During the webinar, Ruth will share her ideas on supporting wellbeing during this stressful and uncertain time. This webinar is free to BSA members. To book, click here.
BSA is monitoring the impact on international students in boarding schools and would ask for your help with this. Understanding and having evidence of the spread of international students across the boarding sector will help us when liaising with government etc. We have created a survey requesting information about your international boarders and how many have already returned home in response to COVID-19. If you have time, please complete the short survey, here. If you don't have time to complete this, if you are able to send a quick email to BSA stating how many boarders have returned home, that would also be very helpful.

A.3: What will happen if schools close?
BSA is monitoring cases in schools. If you have any suspected or confirmed cases, within the student or staff body, please email Robin Fletcher, BSA Chief Executive, to let him know along with information on how this is being managed, ie self-isolation.

We have consistently advised that schools in the UK are permitted to remain open for boarders if they close or are required to close the education provision and believe this would be the case in most other jurisdictions. Certainly, this was confirmed by the authorities in Ireland last week.

The issue now is that, where pupils have been unable to return home or go to a guardian, the school is likely to remain responsible for them for a protracted period of time. BSA advises therefore that where it is currently possible for boarders to return home; this should be expedited. Where it is not possible, or parents do not wish this, because of the risk in the home country, it should be made clear to parents that this is likely to be a long-term arrangement.

Andrew Hall of “Safeguarding in Schools” has today issued some guidance on teaching pupils remotely and on looking after vulnerable pupils during school closures. Whilst aimed at all schools, the principles remain relevant for boarding schools. The guidance is available here.

ISC Digital Strategy Group has issued a joint COVID-19 bulletin with advice and practical steps for school leaders. Please click here to view

A.4: How to deal with one or more cases in school
Unfortunately public health advice does not seem to address the issues faced by residential establishments unless they are care homes or similar. The previous UK advice was withdrawn last week. We are aware that NHS 111 and Public Health England are finding it difficult to provide targeted advice for the boarding sector, and we are raising this with the Secretary of State for Education in England as a matter of urgency. Since the change in guidance last Friday morning that anyone who presents with symptoms of cough or fever is expected to self-isolate, matters have become very complicated for boarding schools. It is almost impossible for a school to achieve this without risking the kind of outbreak we have seen in cruise ships and similar settings. BSA believes that medical centres or boarding houses could be used as a holding area while awaiting a plan but isolating in households is far safer. We will urge the public health authorities to address this and will publish any updated advice as soon as we can.

Dealing with a case in school will vary greatly depending on the medical provision in school. Those schools with multiple houses and dormitories and with a medical centre staffed with registered nurses are in a very different position from those schools with a small boarding house. Whereas it will be possible for some schools to eliminate the problem by closing completely, this will not be an option for all.

In the meantime, our advice would be to:

  • follow instructions from the relevant public health body
  • where such advice is contradictory, insufficient or does not meet the needs of boarding schools, schools must work out their own best (ie least risk) self-isolation options
  • Schools must speak to insurers to alert them to any conflicting advice, so that insurance is not invalidated
  • Communications to parents, carers, pupils and staff must be clear and should include the option to remove their children from site, unless public health bodies have forbidden this
  • Schools must undertake any deep-clean work necessary but ensure that staff are fully supported by having the right equipment and information. If in any doubt the services of a professional supplier should be used.

A.5: Staff arrangements
Many schools are quite rightly very concerned about how to staff any provision, especially if some of those staff themselves become ill. It is right to start from a position of asking for volunteers (which many schools have done successfully), but this might not always be sufficient. ISC has raised this with DfE, and Harrison Clark Rickerbys has produced a briefing note for ISBA which is available here

ISBA member schools can contact them for guidance regarding the implications of staffing the school over Easter and beyond. Contact their COO, John Murphie directly.

Although this situation is challenging and upsetting for all staff, schools should be particularly mindful of supporting GAP assistants and equivalent, most of whom are not much older than our boarders, and are a very long way from home. 

A.6: Inspections
Both BSA and ISC have raised with the inspectorates, and have now been assured by both ISI and Ofsted that there will be no inspection activity until further notice. The same is true of Care Inspectorate in Scotland and Estyn and Care Inspectorate Wales, who had already confirmed this last week.

A.7: School Trips
BSA has received confirmation from DfE that the advice issued to schools in England last week advising schools to cancel all school trips abroad was issued jointly by DfE, the Prime Minister’s office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the latter being very important in any discussions with insurers, we believe. The FCO advice also makes this clear in their updated guidance yesterday.

Travel guidance for the education sector has also been updated today, and can be accessed here

A.8: Support
BSA fully appreciates the continued strain this issue has put on staff in schools, and particularly on pupils and their families, some of whom are making considerable sacrifices. BSA, ISC and our partner BAISIS will continue to support our member schools as best we can during this very challenging period.

Following the UK Prime Minister's speech, BSA has taken the decision to close the BSA office in Central London and all staff will be working remotely, limiting travel and social interaction for staff. Our phones are being redirected so we would request emails where possible and we ask all callers for patience as we navigate this new working system. On average over the past month, BSA has answered a query from schools every 15 minutes, including almost during most evenings and over most weekends. Our aim is to continue providing this service and to continue representing the sector to government to seek clarity and guidance.

B. Links to previous BSA advice


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