Eton parents are understood to be “furious” that pupils have been sent home to isolate, accusing the school of “spreading the virus around the country”.
The whole of the Lower Sixth, as well as some pupils in other year groups, have been told to leave the £42,000-a-year boarding school and isolate at home while continuing their lessons online.
The unusual move came after a “significant” number of pupils tested positive for coronavirus and it was decided that, in order to protect the rest of the pupils, they should be sent to isolate off site.
A source told The Telegraph: “The children who live abroad are being farmed out to the families of fellow pupils. They [the parents] don’t mind the extra children at all, but they do object to the spreading of the virus round the country when it could be contained in the school.”
This is the second major outbreak that the Windsor-based school has grappled with since the start of the academic year. Last month, several students tested positive after returning to school following the summer holidays and were put into isolation.
Eton College is one of a handful of elite boarding schools to have set up its own test, track and trace regime by striking a deal with a private provider. The school said it was “determined” not to put any extra pressure on the NHS and took out a contract with a company that does regular testing for pupils.
A spokesman for the school said: “A significant number of pupils recently tested positive for Covid-19, and the relevant authorities were notified. This has resulted in all of the Lower Sixth – Year 12 – isolating, as well as some pupils in other year groups.
“Given the numbers involved, medical advice was clear that these pupils could not safely isolate at the school. Public health officials arranged additional testing themselves. The school has acted in line with their instructions throughout.”
The spokesman said that, following discussions with Public Health England, the school was advised that pupils should self-isolate at home to prevent Covid spreading through the rest of the school community.
“Eton has activated our virtual learning programme to teach these pupils remotely. We wish those who have tested positive a speedy recovery,” he said.
While official Government advice says universities should contain outbreaks as much as possible by keeping students on campus rather than sending them home, the advice for boarding schools is different.
Boarding schools are advised by the Department for Education to consult parents on whether children should return home to isolate rather than doing so on site, acknowledging that some “may benefit more from self-isolating at their family home”.
Other boarding schools, such as the £38,000-a-year Uppingham, in Rutland, have also set up their own test, track and trace systems. At the start of term, every pupil and member of staff received a test, funded by the school, regardless of whether they had symptoms.
The school has divided pupils into “pods” of 10 to 12, taking advantage of its spacious grounds so that, if a child gets ill, only those in his or her pod need to isolate.
Benenden, a £39,000-per-term girls’ boarding school in Kent, has split pupils into “households” of about 16, meaning that if one tests positive only the other 15 have to isolate instead of the whole year group. The school also spent £35,000 on its own Samba II testing machine, which delivers results in 90 minutes.