Int’l boarding school students left behind in UK face mental health issues

Most international students returned home after schools in the UK were recently closed by the Department for Education in response to the pandemic.

“The mental health dimension to this is huge”

The closures coincided with the end of term and at boarding schools like Bedales in Hampshire, students were allowed to leave early. However, the Boarding Schools’ Association has confirmed that a number of students have been unable to return home.

“In line with government guidelines, BSA schools are now closed with the exception of children of key workers, vulnerable children and some who were unable to go home due to travel and health restrictions,” Robin Fletcher, chief executive of BSA, told The PIE News.

“BSA and our members are working closely with authorities to support the NHS and vulnerable people at this time,” he added.

Yasemin Wigglesworth, executive officer of guardianship accrediting body Aegis, explained that both guardians and schools are looking after those students who are unable to return home.

“Some schools are staying opening for as long as needed so some students are remaining there, whilst others are staying in homestays arranged by their guardianship organisation,” she told The PIE. 

“Those remaining over Easter will either stay with homestays or in school, if open.

“Our guardians are still working hard to try and get their remaining students on flights home where possible. It’s been an extremely intense and pressured time for guardians.”

Wigglesworth added that the gratitude from overseas parents for the support received by guardians has been “overwhelming”.

Caroline Nixon, general secretary of The British Association of Independent Schools with International Students, told The PIE that the first thought of UK schools is to keep students physically safe, but their mental health must also be considered.

“Whether they are still in the UK  or whether they are still to be placed somewhere, the mental health dimension to this is huge and is going to go on being huge as long as people are cooped up and a long way from home,” she said.

The BSA recently held a webinar for its members, which was presented by positive psychology coach Ruth Hughes, to help them understand how coronavirus might impact their students’ psychological wellbeing.

Hughes spoke to The PIE about the risks to students’ mental health by referring to SCARF, a psychological model that explains social behaviour.

“If you look at the central points of identity as being status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. All of those are going to be adversely impacted by being left behind,” she said.

“It’s been an extremely intense and pressured time for guardians”

Hughes explained that students are in a very uncertain situation, not just because they don’t know when they will be able to go home, but also because students don’t know if their school friends will be returning for the summer term.

She explained that this could negatively impact their mental health.

“At the moment a lot of schools don’t know if they are going to open for the summer term, and if they are when. So some of these kids were left thinking that term will open as normal after the holidays. Now is that going to happen?” she added.

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