Finding the ideal half term and exeat host family for our international students is one of the most important jobs that we do. Boarding school students work hard at school with a full timetable of lessons and after school activities. By the time the half term break comes round they are tired and in need of some rest and recuperation.
As many of our students’ parental home is too far away to make exeat weekend or half term trips back viable, it is our important job to find the next best thing.
When it comes to matching students with host families a lot of work is done with overseas parents and the child themselves, trying to establish the right fit. Do they want a quiet home with no children around where they can study and rest? Would they prefer a busy bustling home with children and lots of activities on offer? We try and get it right and most of the time we succeed. The majority of our students return to their host family for every holiday.
We follow strict Safer Recruitment procedures when we recruit host families, checking that their facilities are good, their houses are clean and warm and they have had all the safety checks that they need on boilers and appliances as well as working smoke alarms.
We also use our professional curiosity to establish their motives for hosting and we only use a host family for our students if we feel completely confident they are right for the role. Our host family inspectors, who are all parents themselves, are told not to proceed with any host family they would not be happy to place their own child with.
It is, however, very important that we keep checking in with our students to make sure they are happy and comfortable with their host families. Sometimes, we do not get it right and they often would prefer to go somewhere else for the next holiday but are too shy to ask.
We want to encourage our students to speak up if they want to move. We have a no quibble policy about this – if they tell us they want to move we do just that.
We make make every effort to encourage a student to tell us if there is anything about their host family that they do not like. If a student is really unhappy at their host family and would like to move then it is important that they let us know while they are there. They can email their Bright World Buddy, call or email the office, let their Parents or Agent know and out of hours they can use our emergency phone. We will then make arrangements to move them during their holiday.
If they were happy at the family but simply would prefer not to go there again as it wasn’t a perfect match then this will be captured at our post-host family stay welfare visit by the Bright World Buddy.
Students are difficult to get hold of at the best of times and finding out feedback from them can be difficult. We have designed an easy, mobile-friendly form via our Portal, Blink that we send to students after each host family stay. This invites them to let us know if there was anything that they were not happy with and to request a follow up call or visit from us. We mainly get positive replies but if there is something not right, we find they are more likely to fill in the form and let us know that way.
Similarly, host families are sent feedback forms so they can let us know any concerns they had about behaviour or settling in for their student.
A recent example springs to mind when realising that despite all good intentions and the best of efforts made by our Accommodation Team and Guardianship Care Managers when matching students with host families, we sometimes just get it wrong.
We have a host family who has a large 6 bedroom farmhouse located in what we think is a beautiful, peaceful part of the countryside. They have animals, including dogs and chickens. For many of us, this seems like the perfect option for a relaxing holiday away from school. We placed a young student there who we genuinely felt was in for a treat and would love the experience. Imagine being able to collect your breakfast from the chickens yourself and then help the host family cook fresh eggs and homemade bread with you... A thing of dreams for some.
This was, however, not the case and it was a thing of bad dreams for our young student. They hadn't told us they didn't like animals very much and they found the whole experience too different and unusual. When our Local Coordinator visited them to find out how it went after the exeat, they said that they found the house to be unkempt and they hated the fact that they were not in a city where shops where readily accessible. They never wanted to return.
We acted immediately, of course and changed arrangements for the half term. We are so pleased that the student felt they could tell us how they really felt so we could get it right for them for the longer holiday. We now hope they will enjoy their city-based October half term.
The new NMS standard for Boarding Schools recently published by the Department for Education states that schools need to ensure that the wellbeing of a boarder is being monitored – how they do that is something they need to decide as a school.
Bright World is pleased that our one level of service (the best possible package for all students) more than satisfies the new standards and guidance so that if an overseas parent chooses Bright World or if a school signposts them to us, they can rest assured that this part of the NMS will be fully covered by us and our processes.
AEGIS is an organisation that is referenced in the NMS as one to consult and follow in order to ensure that students are being properly cared for and their wellbeing is being promoted and monitored. They have recently updated their Quality Standards that Gold Standard AEGIS accredited guardians must follow in order to help schools to comply with the new guidance. Here is the new AEGIS Standard that has been added to the list of Quality Standards we need to meet:
4.2 Student Wellbeing
4.2.1 The guardianship organisation is required to check in with students on a regular basis to ensure their wellbeing. This is especially important during and after stays with homestays. This could be in the form, for example, of a telephone call, text message or a visit where applicable.
4.2.2 A record of such communication should be kept on the student file and any concerns followed up appropriately.