Following the announcement of another nationwide lockdown in the UK, all UK students have been told to stay at home and have, once again, reverted to online learning. The situation has certainly been difficult for international students, many of whom have already returned to the UK to begin the January school term.
With schools not set to reopen until at least mid-February, and travel restrictions making travel home unfeasible for many, where exactly are these students staying, and what ramifications does this have for us as guardians?
For students who had already arrived and unpacked at their boarding house, the advice for them, in most cases, has been to stay exactly where they are. Although they are located on the school grounds, the boarding house is their home in the UK and the plan has been to treat them the same as all other students who are learning from home. This means that teachers have been delivering online learning to them in the boarding house. When not in lessons, students will eat, sleep and rest as usual in their boarding house bubbles.
Other students, who were already in the UK but had not yet made it to school, were required to stay with their Bright World host family. Some schools were not able to keep their boarding houses open and asked us to help by placing students with host families.
This also applied to students who had remained in the UK throughout the Christmas holidays. Those who had been staying with a host family during the holidays, have simply remained with the same host family. They have been taking part in online learning there, under the supervision of the hosts, and will return to their boarding houses as soon as schools reopen.
In some cases, students who had already arrived at their boarding house decided that they would prefer to stay with a host family instead, and so we made arrangements for this to happen.
If any child under the age of 16 in the UK stays with someone who is not a close relative for more than 28 days, this is considered as a private fostering arrangement. Due to the extended length of the stay, the UK authorities deem it necessary, quite rightly, to make checks on the person or people taking care of the child and to inspect their home and ensure it is safe and appropriate. These laws extend also to any international student who is staying with a family friend or a host family for more than 28 days. This is not something that Bright World usually organises, as students we are guardian to only stay with host families for short holidays.
In order to become a registered private foster carer, there is much paperwork to complete and thorough safety checks, interviews and references are required. Bright World will have already done a huge amount of screening on any host family our students are with but this is not the case where a student is staying with a family friend. The Local Authority will carry out their own safety checks on each family, regardless of whether they have already been screened by us or not and this includes DBS (criminal record) checks, taking up references and conducting family interviews, as well as periodically getting in touch with each child's parents to ensure that they are happy with the arrangement.
These are legal requirements spawned by the necessity for further and advanced safeguarding measures, as a result of the child being in long-term accommodation. Bright World fully supports this extra level of screening that is carried out and we assist the Local Authorities as much as we can along the way.
A big part of our jobs as UK guardians is to keep our partner schools fully informed of their students' whereabouts when they are not in school, usually during the exeats, half terms and sometimes the longer holidays. This is vital not only for their safety, but also to uphold a school's responsibility as sponsor if they are studying on a Child Visa (formerly Tier 4), or a Student Visa. This is because, as a Visa sponsor, schools have a responsibility to inform the UKVI of any substantial changes to the whereabouts of their students. This applies to all students on a Child or Student Visa, and not just those who have fallen into the private fostering category. We are assuming that moving from the boarding house into a host family long-term and learning online, constitutes a significant change in their circumstances.
Failure to report significant changes can result in a school having their sponsor licence revoked so it is really important that Bright World and other guardians help schools to keep up to date with the whereabouts of their students and inform them of any subsequent changes such as a student moving host family during the extended stay period.
We know it is our duty now, more than ever, to work with schools and keep them abreast of any changes to the living arrangements of our students. Informing schools of where our students are staying is very much part of our processes already, but we are currently taking extra steps to ensure that this information is always up-to-date, so that schools can report back accordingly.
For more information about this, we have provided a link to some FAQ's for schools and guardians, published by AEGIS.
With schools not set to reopen until at least mid-February, and travel restrictions making travel home unfeasible for many, where exactly are our students staying, and what ramifications does this have for us, as guardians? Lia is joined by Regional Manager, Louis Spice, and Director of Safeguarding & Operations, Jenny Rumble, who help to shed some light.