Who is Auntie Bessie?

Woman making a quizzical expression

A family friend, or relative who lives close to the school can be the ultimate panic-reliever for parents who have made the difficult decision to send their child away to UK boarding school. If this person lives close enough to school, they may even be able to take on the role of becoming guardian to the child during their studies at boarding school and should do well to fit this requirement.

The requirement is usually that overseas parents must appoint a UK-based guardian to be responsible for the child when school closes and in an emergency. UK Boarding Schools can, however, be left in a vulnerable situation when a guardian turns out not to be who they said they were or who the parents themselves led them to believe they were....

how we came to meet "Auntie Bessie"

boarding school students

We were recently approached by one of our partner boarding schools and were asked to accommodate three students for their half term holiday at short notice. The school was very unhappy with sending the young siblings to stay with their guardian and 'family relative'‘; let’s call her Auntie Bessie. After a conversation with the children, the Head of Boarding was horrified to learn that not only were the children extremely anxious and were not looking forward to the short school holiday but that unacceptable living conditions were awaiting them.

The school in question, had been told by the parents that ‘Auntie Bessie’ was a family friend and had gladly accepted that she took on the role of guardianship for these young Chinese siblings, assuming that she would be looking after the children themselves during school breaks. 

To their horror, not only was “Auntie Bessie” placing the children into a host family who, from the children's description, was far from suitable, but she was charging a fee to the parents to act as guardian. This so called Auntie was clearly not related to the children at all. With the boarding house closing for half term and with confirmation from the parents in writing of their insistence of sending the children there, the Head of Boarding was left in a deeply uncomfortable position and with no choice but to allow the children to return to Auntie Bessie.    

How can schools verify guardians who claim to be a friend or relative? 

Boarding Schools should understand that Auntie and Uncle is often just a term of endearment in some countries and does not mean they are a member of the family.  Schools may consider asking 'relatives' to verify their relationship with the child and with the family. A copy of their passport, proof of address and confirmation from the student’s parents could help to do this.  Family friends also need to prove that they live close by, would be able and prepared to attend school at short notice and do not live for most of the year outside the UK (another story we have heard so often). 

warning - horror stories ahead

warning sign

If it is discovered that Auntie Bessie is, in fact, guardian to several students at your school or less easy to detect, other schools, this can be an indicator that they are running an unaccredited guardianship agency, with no guarantee they are screening and vetting their host families or staff.

Want to consider something even scarier...... Who is referencing and DBS-checking Auntie Bessie?  

Answer =  no-one. 


holidays from hell

unhappy student

We have heard stories of children being 'packed in' to a small house and bedroom, sharing with many other students and with very little supervision. This is a far cry from the wonderful image of a welcoming Host Family to offer a home from home for children at boarding schools that many parents have.  

We have also heard of cases where 'Auntie Bessie' the 'family friend' herself is hosting up to 10 students in her own house in bunk beds and ignoring our laws in this country about hosting a maximum of 3 children at one time.  

protect students whose parents nominate their own 'host family' or guardian

safeguarding and care hands

International students have so much to thank their parents for. They have invested in the best life gift possible in a British Education in a UK boarding school. They often feel under great pressure to succeed so as not to let their parents down. When parents unwittingly make and ill-advised choice of guardian by choosing an Auntie Bessie-style arrangement, students are not sure to tell them that their exeats are not ideal or feedback that something was not quite right.  

We liken this to when a school organises their own guardianship or guardianships - this is not good practise as there is no independent eye on things and no-one for the student to turn to that may upset someone at school.  

With no independent party asking the student about their host family experiences,  and often too embarrassed to tell anyone at school, we worry that students have nowhere to turn and suffer in silence.   

give students a voice - and then listen to them

giving someone a voice

At Bright World, we have several parties who a student can turn to, in the knowledge that their voice will be listened to.  They have their Guardianship Care Manager at the office who they can call or email.  We pro-actively seek their feedback by a visit to school after their stay to check they were happy.  They are also given the opportunity of sending a straightforward online feedback form after their stay, thus maximising their chances of voicing any concerns.  More importantly if they tell us they don't like it then unlike Auntie Bessie, we have many other options for them and will just move them straight away.  

just choose Bright World or at least another AEGIS-accredited company

Bright World inspection report

Although the majority of UK Boarding Schools, Colleges and Universities insist that overseas parents appoint a responsible adult to act on their behalf while their child studies at school, unbelievably not all currently require that the appointed Guardian meets AEGIS guidelines. 

AEGIS (The Association for The Education and Guardianship for International Students) is the only governing body in the UK, tasked with inspecting Guardianship Agencies and with no current government regulation in the UK, parents are urged to choose an Aegis guardianship agency like Bright World Guardianships.

Bright World has been guardian to many students at UK boarding schools nationwide and has great host families across the UK. For more information on how to apply for guardianship contact us today.