Boarding schools warn against virus 'xenophobia'

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News family and education correspondent

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image captionBoarding schools are telling parents to reconsider half-term travel to China and Hong Kong

Boarding schools in the UK have been warned to "stay alert for any signs of xenophobia" as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Boarding Schools' Association has told schools to watch out for prejudiced reactions towards Chinese pupils, including on social media.

"Such behaviour should not be tolerated," says the guidance to the association's schools.

The lung disease appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December.

The association has issued advice to boarding schools, many of which will have pupils from China or children with families who might have travelled there.

China is the biggest source of international pupils for the UK's independent schools - and the association has been giving information to schools on how to respond to the outbreak.

Schools are being warned of a "rapidly changing situation" and told to look out for relevant symptoms.

They have been told to ensure there are plans in place if there is a suspected case of the virus, including how to isolate a child.

On Monday the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that people who have come to the UK from the Wuhan area should "self-isolate" themselves, even if they have no apparent symptoms.

The advice from the health secretary is that this self-isolation should last for 14 days from the date of leaving China.

The Boarding Schools' Association is urging schools to advise parents to reconsider if they were planning to take a family trip to China and Hong Kong at half term.

This could mean allowing pupils to stay in school over half-term, says the guidance.

Schools have been advised to give support and reassurance to any pupils from the affected areas in China.

"They will be worried about themselves but more particularly about their friends and families," says the guidance.

If there are signs of prejudice from other pupils, the association tells schools "action should be taken against anyone acting in this way".

A spokesman for the association said this was a pre-emptive move against "xenophobia", rather than a response to a problem that had occurred.

"We are trying to make sure we are covering every eventuality."

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