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Board­ing school stu­dents across the coun­try are head­ing home early to farms and out­back cat­tle sta­tions amid un­cer­tainty over the coro­n­avirus out­break. Bev­er­ley farmer Alan Sat­tler is more than happy to have his 14-year-old son Henry home on the farm. With a busy rock-pick­ing sched­ule, the young­ster will be also be learn­ing online.

Most farm­ers would know a thing or two about keep­ing kids busy and help­ing them learn out­side the con­fines of four school walls.

But more chil­dren than usual will be help­ing out at fam­ily farms this week with nearly all Perth board­ing schools clos­ing to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Bev­er­ley farmer Alan Sat­tler is one par­ent happy to put his son to good use on the farm — in be­tween school­work, of course.

His 14-year-old son Henry was one of more than 100 board­ing stu­dents sent home from Guild­ford Gram­mar last week af­ter it closed its board­ing fa­cil­i­ties on Fri­day.

Stu­dents and families were ad­vised via email just two days be­fore the clo­sure af­ter Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son said board­ing houses were “at high risk of trans­mis­sion”.

At the time of print on Tuesday, Guild­ford Gram­mar’s day school re­mained open and some se­nior board­ers were staying with fam­ily or guardians and at­tend­ing as day stu­dents.

Henry ar­rived back at the farm on Thurs­day, but the Year 9 stu­dent’s re­turn is far more help than hin­drance with Mr Sat­tler un­able to “do some of the things he used to” af­ter a bad car ac­ci­dent last year. Mr Sat­tler said he and his wife Jo would be able to ac­com­mo­date Henry’s school­ing and joked the up­side was that they now had “a month of free labour”.

“I think it is fair enough, the last thing you want is kids locked up in board­ing houses,” he said.

“He will still get some for­mal online ed­u­ca­tion in place, but from home. But hey, you can’t get any bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion than farm work.”

Mr Sat­tler said rock pick­ing would be the first job on the list for Henry, fol­lowed by us­ing the airseeder when the Sat­tlers start an early seed­ing sea­son on April 1.

The ar­rival back on fam­ily farms of dozens of stu­dents comes just weeks be­fore seed­ing is set to be­gin across WA and fears about sea­sonal worker short­ages in­ten­sify.

Mem­bers of WA’s grains in­dus­try are fac­ing a bat­tle to find staff due to travel re­stric­tions.

While Guild­ford was the first elite board­ing school in the State to close its fa­cil­i­ties, it is un­likely to be the last.

While pub­lic schools are ex­pected to keep face-to-face classes run­ning un­til at least the end of term on April 9, nearly all in­de­pen­dent schools have been get­ting around the govern­ment’s re­quire­ment to keep schools op­er­a­tional by leav­ing their doors open but mov­ing all lessons online.

The chil­dren of es­sen­tial work­ers, such as doc­tors, nurses and teach­ers, will com­plete online lessons at school. Prin­ci­pals’ groups re­ported that, on aver­age, 50 per cent of pub­lic school stu­dents were ab­sent on Tuesday.

Pic­ture: Danella Be­vis

Henry Sat­tler, 14, is a Year 9 stu­dent who boards at Guild­ford Gram­mar School and is back home on the farm in Bev­er­ley with his fam­ily, in­clud­ing his father Alan Sat­tler.

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