BSA conference: independent school closures level with previous years

The BSA’s conference shed light on the state of the boarding schools sector, including independent school closures and what to do about testing

Independent school closures this year are still in line with previous years, said the chief executive of the Independent Schools Council (ISC) at a conference for headteachers.

The Annual Conference for Heads, held by the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA), took place online from 22-23 September, having been postponed from May.

“The long-term economic impacts of 2020 are yet to play out but according to DfE figures, the number of independent school closures this year is still in line with previous years,” said Julie Robinson on the first day of the conference.

“We’re aware of 24 ISC schools and 20 non-ISC independent schools that have closed, but in 2020 24 new schools were added to the ISC database bringing in nearly 4,000 pupils to membership.”

Robinson said that it was clear that the DfE had “struggled to cope”, with advice for schools arriving too late.

“Schools are trying to deliver on the ground, and they need more support, more Covid testing, and more detail about syllabus and examination arrangements for 2021.”

She also said it was encouraging to see that education is protected and that schools will be last to close, that there had been successful delivery of online learning and remote working, and that there is a reported upsurge in teacher training which could “offset at least part of the teacher staffing crisis”.

Testing in schools

John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS), said Health Protection Scotland does not support private Covid-19 testing in schools, but that schools in Scotland were facing the same issues being reported nationally with long waiting times for tests.

Robin Fletcher, chief executive of the BSA, said there was “no single answer” but that private testing in independent schools was a “sensible thing to do”.

“The guidance from the government is that schools should continue to use the NHS service, but we are making it clear to them that this isn’t working. If schools are going down the private testing route, arguably that’s a sensible thing to do because you do need quick answers for boarding houses.

“Schools doing private testing or running their own testing centres are genuinely relieving pressure on the NHS. If we were to just take testing required for 10% of international students on any one day, that would be 3,000 tests. It would arguably be extremely selfish of the independent sector to rely on an NHS system that isn’t working.”

Stats

  • A BSA survey of 125 boarding schools so far has shown that 93% of boarders are back at school
  • In a poll at the conference, 51% of attendees said their schools were going ahead with exeats
  • 71% of attendees said boarders are staying in school over half term
  • 63% of attendees said boarders will make their own arrangements for the Christmas holidays

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