As I sat down to write this end of week message, and I began to think about what I wanted to talk to you about, there was one notion that I couldn’t escape: that these are uncertain times for you, our parents.
I know that you will be asking yourselves questions about when and how the children will be going back into their school, what the situation is with exams and, more generally, what is going to happen with this rapidly changing, global event that we are all living through.
I cannot give you any clarity on this global situation – like you, I am sitting on a daily basis watching the virus spread to more countries and more cases, sadly, being confirmed. However, what I can do is give you the very latest situation as we understand it in terms of coming back to school, the safety protocols that we are developing and what the current state of play is with exams.
If I take that last point first, you will all have seen the news that the UK Government has taken the decision to close all of their schools and to cancel the A Levels and GCSE exams that were scheduled for April and May.
Year 11 students in our schools who offer public exams will be impacted by this in some way – and we are currently in close dialogue with the various Exam Boards that validate our GCSE and IGCSE exams to try and get clear information for you. As you will have seen from the UK, the situation remains quite fluid, but we are hopeful that we will be able to get concrete information to you shortly.
The situation with the IB exams is similar in some respects. Since this outbreak began, we have been vigorously pressing the case with the IBO that they need to take into account the impact of the current situation on our students. This has resulted in various deadlines being extended and guidelines issued for students and parents.
However, as you know, this is no longer just an ESF or an Asian issue for the IBO. This is a global situation that requires the IBO to take decisions for all students around the world who are due to sit their exams later this year. We have been assured by the IBO that a final decision on this year’s examinations will be taken – and communicated – by Friday, March 27.
I want to give you my assurance that our contact with all of the Exam Boards is happening at a senior level. We will get clarity and we will let you know as soon as we do.
For now, the best advice for the students is to proceed on the basis that the exams are all going ahead. Our teachers are still there for every student, we are still able to get oral exams and practical coursework completed and our determination to ensure that every student is ready has not wavered an inch.
When it comes to the date and process of coming back to school, the Hong Kong Government said earlier this week that the prospect of all of our children being allowed back to school on April 20 is extremely unlikely. At best, this means that we will see a phased return to school after the Easter holidays.
Similar to the situation regarding exams, we have been speaking with the Hong Kong Government and the Education Bureau on a near daily basis since this outbreak began. We will continue to do this in the days ahead in order to get a better understanding of what any phased approach may look like. The Education Secretary has said that he expects to be able to tell us more by the end of the month.
However, our planning on how we bring students and staff safely back to school has continued. Starting from today, we have tightened our regulations about who can access our schools and offices. This is in response to the fact that there have been more and more cases of the virus in HK that have been reported as coming from people who have travelled into the city.
We are leaving no stone unturned in our preparations for the day when we can fully reopen school buildings to staff and students. From speaking to the bus companies about how they intend to manage safety arrangements, to working out enhanced deep cleaning measures for all of our schools – we will be ready when the Government lifts the in-school class suspension.
I started this message by talking about the uncertainty of these times. I want to close by talking about the things I am certain of.
I am certain that we have the best students and the most supportive parents in the world. I am certain that we have wonderful teachers and support staff and I am certain that ESF is well equipped to meet any and all challenges that come our way.
As always, my final message is a short and simple one: thank you for all of your incredible support.
Chief Executive Officer