Private schools hire marquees to allow pupils to return

Most prep schools are open with 80 to 90 per cent attendance – and some are using marquees to help social distancing

Catherine Lough

Coronavirus: Some private schools are hiring marquees to create extra space to allow social distancing

Independent schools are using everything from marquees to forest schools and temporary classrooms as they open up to more pupils, a leading figure in the sector has revealed.

Shaun Fenton, a former chair of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, told Tes that schools were looking at a "whole range of ideas" to cope with social distancing.

He was speaking as it emerged that most private prep schools have now opened up to all year groups and are seeing attendance rates of more than 80 per cent, with some using marquees. 

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Mr Fenton, the head of Reigate Grammar School in Surrey, said: “There’s a whole range of ideas schools are looking at, from securing additional classroom space, everything from craned-in temporary classrooms, through to forest school to the use of outdoor learning, tented marquees so you’re creating extra teaching space if that’s what’s needed – that’s an idea I know lots of schools are looking at.

Coronavirus: Private schools creating temporary classrooms

“When schools have building programmes, it’s pretty typical in state and independent schools that you can hire what they call temporary classrooms, and they are substantial – they’re not just tents.

"So we are looking at some options – obviously it costs more money to have a more substantial classroom, but, then, students only get one chance at an education and we don’t want to cut corners where we’ve got the option of giving them something of higher quality."

Mr Fenton said schools would also consider extending their day so that some year groups could remain at home on certain days, freeing up more space within the buildings. 

"If we create a longer teaching day then we can fit the standard timetable into four rather than five days and maybe each year group could be at home one day a week, with some extra online and independent learning," he said. "That would take some of the pressure off of social distancing on campus.”

Chris King, chief executive of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, which has 607 members across the UK, said: “Most of our members are back with all year groups, and there’s widespread reporting of 80, 85 and 90 per cent of children back within the schools."

He said that some prep schools offering boarding, as well as those with a specialist background, would not have returned at all. But early estimates suggested up to 70 per cent of his member schools were back for all years “right across the board”.

“Small class sizes help; having the facilities and space so you can give over things like sports halls to one or more bubbles, those sort of things have helped," Mr King told Tes.

Prep schools had also used marquees to return.

“One of our schools, and by no means the only one, is putting up small marquees outside, creating additional teaching space – outside classrooms can all help,” he added. 


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Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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