Reopening and Running a Boarding School in Coronavirus Times
Rob Jones, Head of College at Rendcomb College, writes about our approach to reopening and running the boarding school during the Coronavirus era.
It is difficult to know where to start when preparing to reopen a boarding school during a global pandemic - especially as there is no precedent and in this case, no guidance. It is difficult to prepare for such a situation, therefore the team at Rendcomb worked on the principle of keeping the pupils and staff safe while also looking to deliver as much of the normal programme as possible.
In addition to increased cleaning and social distancing measures, we started with three objectives:
Bubbles that were a sensible size to allow pupils to complete their day to day.
Careful restrictions that limited visitors on site to single figures and no off-site trips.
This was enforced to keep the pupils within their school bubbles and family households.
In the Summer Term we were able to welcome all Junior School pupils back to College for two weeks under these objectives. This limited reopening provided a useful insight into how we might run in September.
Over the Summer the Senior Leadership team spent much of their time working through a multitude of scenarios and situations to ensure that each element of school life was reorganised in a Covid-safe manner. They then engaged the expertise of all the staff to find ways to minimise movement around the site. This included making classrooms and boarding school rooms safe and rethink much of the co-curriculum - each with the intention of reducing the risk and limiting potential transmission. Schools are filled with intelligent people who problem-solve all the time and by involving the entire team we ensured that we came up with many clever solutions while also ensuring that everyone felt a part of the end result.
Thankfully we have an abundance of space at Rendcomb College. Pupils are able to move around the site in the fresh Cotswolds air with space between bubbles, so our large 250 acres site and relatively small numbers (400 pupils) made life a lot easier! The College also sees itself as a ‘family’ and so it was no surprise that the pupils and parents wanted to play their part in keeping everyone safe too. The School Council came up with ideas, the parents association provided feedback and the ‘can do’ approach of a motivated community shone through. We have also ensured that we shared our plans with parents, pupils and staff throughout the process, keeping them up to date as we adapted to the ‘new normal.’ It is a privilege to look after other parents’ children for both day school and boarding school and we wanted our families and other stakeholders to know both our actions and the thinking behind them during these Coronavirus times.
It was a pleasure to see the pupils return on the 8th September as families arrived at their designated times and drop off zones, and there was no doubt that everyone was pleased and excited to return. Once back in College we were concerned about getting the pupils back into the ‘swing’ of school life after six months away. The College has an enviable pastoral system and thanks to our small size, we are able to focus our care on an individual basis to ensure that each pupil and family gets the support it needs. While we had an extremely successful and effective remote learning programme, there was a balance to strike between ‘catching up’ and not causing anxiety - which of course is different with each pupil. Rendcomb is blessed with dedicated staff who want the pupils to do well but are also focused on pupils at an individual level. Put simply we care about each child and consider how they can best help them through this challenging time.
As we approach half-term we are thankful to not have any Coronavirus cases within the College and we believe that this is thanks to the measures that we have taken during the Covid-19 pandemic. The way that the whole community has worked together and also the small size of the school has allowed us to respond rapidly and adapt to feedback immediately. We have no doubt that this approach will continue to serve Rendcomb College well over what we all know will be a challenging year. Together we will overcome each problem and make sure that our pupils are getting the best education possible.
To read more about our efforts during this time, read our article about what Rendcomb College have been doing during lockdown: https://www.rendcombcollege.org.uk/what-boarding-schools-doing-coronavirus-lockdown