There are nearly 28,000 overseas students studying in UK boarding schools whose parents do not live here in the UK. Unless they have proper guardianship arrangements in place, they can become vulnerable outside of term times.
The highest levels of safeguarding can be expected by parents during the academic year while students are safe and sound in school; but where are these international students going when the school holidays come around?
With holiday times a frequent feature in the school calendar, it is vital that the high standards of safeguarding and care provided during the school year are maintained during half terms and exeat weekends.
The majority of UK boarding schools ask their overseas parents to appoint a responsible adult to act on their behalf during such times. With hundreds of 'guardians' operating in the UK and with no current government regulation, choosing an AEGIS accredited guardianship agency like Bright World is essential.
When it is time to leave school, host families provide a safe place for our students to relax and study and to enjoy themselves. A friendly face at the school gate not only offers peace of mind to the student but to members of staff at the school who are relying on us to take over care.
Bright World prefers for all students to stay with one of our screened host families, but Jenny explains that this is not always possible if the student has other plans:
"Our families are there to keep a caring eye on our students. If a student breaks our going-out rules, host families know to communicate this to us. Good communication between Head Office and host families helps us to know a student's whereabouts at all times. It is not so easy when we are told by parents that they will be staying with family friends, school friends etc. Students are not always 100% truthful with us or their parents, so it is even more important, in these instances, that we can confirm they are actually going where they say they are".
When a family friend is appointed as guardian, the high level of support a professional AEGIS accredited guardian offers does not come guaranteed. The suitability and safety of accommodation during the school breaks can also be an uncertainty and can often raise concerns.
Students lacking proper guardianship arrangements can come to our attention during the half terms. When this happens, we feel it is our duty to ensure they are safe and that their school knows their whereabouts.
Bright World's Managing Director, Lana Foster describes a recent experience during the half term, where we learned that a young female planned to spend her holiday staying in university halls of residence; a situation which does not fall in line with Bright World and AEGIS guidelines.
"A young girl arrived unexpectedly at the door of one of our host families, having travelled a long distance to visit one of our students during the half term. After questioning her plans for the rest of the evening, we were concerned to learn she planned to stay within her brother's halls of residence, nearly 5 hours away. It seemed she was planning on travelling back there for several hours unaccompanied on the train, via London, and would be arriving at her brother's university halls at around midnight. We intervened, informed her school and made sure she travelled safely."
The above instance is just one example of where a school had been informed by parents that a family friend was the guardian. In reality the child was going to stay on a university campus and was clearly not be taken care of by her brother, who was allowing her to travel unsafely around the UK.
Holiday times are exciting for overseas students and whilst we want our students to have fun, they must stay safe and stick to the rules put in place to protect them.
During our arrival care plan visit at the beginning of the year, we go through our all-important going-out rules and ask students to sign our charter. We think it is important for our students to buy into our rules and understand that these should be taken seriously and followed carefully.
Students are not allowed out in the daytime or evening and must be accompanied by an adult at all times.
Students of 14 or 15, are allowed out in the day time to the host family’s local town or village, i.e. to a local shopping centre. We think students should preferably not go out alone but with a friend where possible. They must have a mobile telephone with them, tell their family where they are going and when they will be back. They are, under no circumstances, allowed to go to London.
Students of 16 plus, are allowed out in the daytime locally. They are allowed to go further afield i.e. to London, ideally with a friend, but must be back before dark and must remain in telephone contact with their host family.
Students who are over 17 are allowed to go to London or other places all day and into the evening but must be back by 11pm at night. They must travel with a friend if they are out after dark and not on their own.
NO BRIGHT WORLD STUDENT IS ALLOWED TO STAY OUT OVERNIGHT WITHOUT THEIR PARENTS’ PERMISSION AND WITH SUFFICIENT NOTICE. STAYING OUT OVERNIGHT CANNOT BE DECIDED ON THE DAY OF TRAVEL.
We urge parents to choose an AEGIS-accredited guardianship organisation, whose job it is to ensure that international students are where they say they are going to be during holidays. This ensures that safeguarding standards are maintained throughout their time here and they return to school safe and sound and having had an enjoyable and safe holiday.