Young Royals’ School Chain Apologises it Can’t Open Sooner

The left have become obsessed with the argument that while the Government is asking state schools to prepare to reopen soon – supposedly endangering the lives of poorer students – the top independent schools aren’t returning until September. Flying in the face of this wide-spread theory is an email sent this morning to parents of pupils at the top private school chain, Thomas’s – where Prince William and Kate send George and Charlotte. In stark contrast to the left’s caricature, the parents of Thomas’s 2,000 pupils are raring to send their kids back, with over 60% of parents at each school wanting all pupils to return as soon as possible. A natural mindset when you’re forking out £20,000-a-year…

There’s a snag, however; the Government is currently preventing independent schools from returning, despite parents’ desires. The school chain explains:

“Independent schools have specifically been requested to follow [government guidance] and our insurance company has this week confirmed that we will be uninsured if we operate outside it.”

Parents will therefore have to make do with only reception, Year 1 and Year 6 returning at the end of the month, as per the government’s rules. As Prince George is now in Year 2, he will have to put off learning his kingship lessons for another few months…

Read the school chain’s email to parents in full below:

Dear Parents,

We must apologise for sending you another lengthy missive, but we feel it is important to bring you up to date with some challenges that we have encountered in our back-to-school planning, and to reset expectations accordingly.

Shortly after the Prime Minister’s announcement last week, we wrote to you on Wednesday holding out the prospect of three ‘waves’ of pupils returning to school, with the option of remote schooling or physical schooling until the end of term. We asked you to complete a survey on that basis and we attach a summary of your responses, which show an overwhelming desire for the children to return to school as soon as possible, based on the facts available at the time.

Since then, however, we have had to face several realities.

First, we have discovered that we are effectively bound by the government’s guidance. Independent schools have specifically been requested to follow it and our insurance company has this week confirmed that we will be uninsured if we operate outside it.

This advice dictates which year groups we can invite back to school and when we can invite them. As you know, the government has initially selected pupils in Early Years, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6, though their potential return to school remains conditional until confirmation on (as we understand it) Thursday, 28th May.

Our Heads and their senior leaders have therefore been drawing up detailed risk assessments and plans to implement the government’s guidance and to ensure a return to school that is as safe as possible for these pupils, their parents and our members of staff.

The required measures, whilst totally understandable, are significant and severely limit our room for manoeuvre in school. They include organising pupils into small groups of 15; increasing staffing levels by allocating members of staff specifically to each group or ‘pod’ of pupils; and limiting the pupils’ and teachers’ ability to mix or move around school. These measures are set out in more detail in the attached document.

It is because of these limitations that we have decided that the best – really the only – way to operate is by continuing to follow our remote schooling content and timetable, whether the children are at school or at home. In this way, they will continue to enjoy the breadth of content made available by our specialist teachers and the variety of activities that we have been able to offer to date through Thomas’s Virtually Together, our remote schooling programme.

Children in school will clearly receive direct feedback from the adults in the room, rather than online, and this will suit our younger pupils in particular. Children at home will continue to receive feedback online, but this may be from a different member of staff than before.

Children at school will clearly benefit from socialising within their pods, in a way which many of them have sorely missed during remote schooling.

In educational terms, however, we believe that, because of the strict limitations placed on our physical offering, there will be little difference whether the children are at school in their pods guided by their ‘pod teacher’ or at home guided by their parents.

Current status

As a result of all of the above, we are now clear of the following:

We have the capacity to welcome back to school the initial cohort of pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6, whose parents have elected for them to return. Indeed, we greatly look forward to doing so as soon as their return date has been resolved.

We also have the capacity to continue to run our remote schooling programme simultaneously for all other pupils at home.

On current estimates, we believe that we will be able to accommodate one more year group at school, should the government allow this.

At that point, we will reach the limit of our ability to maintain simultaneously both our physical offering in school under the current restrictions and our remote schooling programme for pupils at home.

There are, however (at least) two complicating factors:

First, not all of our members of staff can come straight back to operational duties at school. A considerable number are required to maintain remote schooling for the year groups that are not yet able to return to school; some are extremely clinically vulnerable and must shield; some are clinically vulnerable and are advised to work from home where possible; some members of staff have pre-school children, but do not have their normal childcare; and some have children whose schools have not opened for the children of critical workers.

Secondly, as is likely to be the case for the foreseeable future, should a pupil or member of staff in any ‘pod’ develop symptoms and test positive for Covid-19, all pupils and members of staff in that pod will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. Apart from the obvious anxiety this may raise about community transmission, this scenario would be likely to take our staffing capacity beyond its limits, particularly if it occurs in more than one pod.

Consequently, as a result of all of these operational challenges, and without a change in the prevailing government guidance, we calculate that, whilst maintaining remote learning for everyone, we can only accommodate a maximum of four year groups at school.

We must therefore now admit to being far less optimistic about our initial hope to bring all pupils back to school before our previously published end of term on 3rd July. 

Looking ahead

For the time being we will continue “to drive ahead according to the visibility.”

The return to school of pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 is still subject to final confirmation by the government. This is expected on Thursday, 28th May. However, if the return to school date for these year groups is delayed, then remote schooling will continue for all pupils as at present.

As things stand, Monday, 1st June will be a day of preparation and planning at school. Because many members of staff are required to set up for the children’s arrival the next day, we will not be able to offer our remote schooling programme on this day.

On Tuesday, 2nd June, subject to the government’s confirmation, we will welcome back the pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 whose parents have elected for them to return. Remote schooling will also resume for all other pupils on this date.

Remote schooling will end on Friday, 3rd July.

From Monday, 6th July to Friday 17th July, it is still our hope to offer a Summer Term extension to those who have indicated that they would take it up. However, we now know that these weeks will have to operate under the government’s prevailing advice and, whilst we have begun to plan for them, we will only be able to confirm these plans with you closer to the time.

In the meantime, in response to your recent questions we have prepared the attached FAQs document. We hope that you will find time to read through it and that it will answer many of your most immediate questions.

Further information will follow directly from the Head of your children’s school and we will be in touch again at the end of the week with a response to the school fees rebate for the Summer Term.

Until then we send best wishes, as ever, to you and your families.

Yours sincerely,

Ben Thomas and Tobyn Thomas
Principals
Thomas’s London Day Schools

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