Pat Moores, Director of UK Education Guide, writes about what guardianship organisations and associations hope to see in the UK government’s new National Minimum Standards for Boarding, due later this year.
Editor’s note – A consultation period on the National Minimum Standards for Boarding Schools has been completed by the government and the final rules – which may be subject to change from proposals – will be released later this year. StudyTravel Magazine will report on changes when announced. Below, Pat Moores writes about what the sector is hoping for.
The New Minimum Standards for Boarding schools – what does the sector hope for?
The new National Minimum Standards (NMS) for Boarding Schools are expected to come into force in September 2021 and the consultation period finished on 23rd February, this year. One of the proposed key changes in the updated NMS is a new standard on guardianship arrangements.
As Julia Evans, Director of Cambridge Guardian Angels points out, “The current NMS covers only guardians appointed by the school under the heading of ‘Staff Recruitment’, stating: ‘Any guardians appointed by the school are subject to the same safer recruitment procedures as staff.’”
Julia is delighted that the draft proposals would increase the focus on guardians with a dedicated standard which will extend schools’ responsibilities to guardians that have not been appointed by the school.
Pat Moores, Director of UK Education Guide.
This view is backed up by Ammy Davies-Potter, Director of Guardianship and Inclusion at Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA) Group. She states that the proposed new standard 22.3 ‘Where children have guardians that have not been appointed by the school, the school takes appropriate steps to ensure that children are safe and that the guardianship arrangement is promoting the physical and emotional wellbeing of the child,’ is a significant change which will have a positive impact on the welfare of international students.
She stresses that the BSA’s Certified Guardian scheme supports this new standard as it provides a clear demonstration to schools of the quality and intention of the educational guardians certified by the BSA, and that it also offers peace of mind to schools to know they are dealing with educational guardians who have the highest safeguarding standards and will offer appropriate host family training and careful liaison with parents and schools.
Many guardianships also hope the new guidelines will be more explicit about who a guardian can actually be. They are calling for a greater focus on the geographic location of the guardian in the case of an emergency, and are also calling for schools to apply greater scrutiny to the background of selected guardians.
Currently, it is quite often the case that families want to avoid the cost of appointing a guardian from a guardianship company and opt instead for a family member or a family friend who lives in the UK.
As Benjamin Hughes from Pippa’s Guardians points out, “If a family friend is appointed, schools are now more insistent that they live near to the school and are aware of the commitment – often this involves a phone call or even a visit to ensure standards are high and it’s a safe environment.” In future family friends or family members acting as guardians may no longer be acceptable to many schools with the increased responsibility for pupil wellbeing ultimately falling more heavily on their shoulders.
The pandemic has certainly already increased focus on the pivotal role of the guardian. The importance of having caring, capable guardians focused on the welfare of individual international students was amply illustrated last Christmas when a rise in Covid-19 infection rates caused schools to close boarding houses while cancellation of flights gave problems in repatriating international students.
Guardians took the lead in working with parents of their international students to deliver travel plans, or in some cases arranging accommodation for children to stay over the Christmas holidays, ensuring their wellbeing while the school was closed.
This situation highlighted that having schools that also offer ‘guardianship’ as part of their offer to parents is less than ideal. Having an independent voice championing the needs of international pupils is vital and the proposed revised standards highlight the importance of the guardian being independent of the school – and would actually prohibit school staff acting as guardians for boarders.
As Karen Pickles , Director of Berkeley Guardians, says, “I believe that the guardians should be independent from the school to ensure a safe and supportive environment where screening of homestays and quality control is vital for the protection of all those students requiring support. Alongside this, it is the guardian who determines the options for the most suitable homestays for the students requiring this service.”
The increased burden on schools to better ‘police’ external guardianship arrangements in future will also almost certainly mean that they will lean towards advising families to secure the services of guardians who: vet and recruit suitable local families, are experienced in dealing with all existing safeguarding regulations, and are well placed to cope with new regulations that may be introduced in September.
The tightening of guidelines will be welcome news to guardianship companies that come under AEGIS and BSA’s certification scheme.
As Yasemin Wigglesworth , Executive Officer at AEGIS , says, “AEGIS is pleased to see the addition of the new draft standard on educational guardianship – a result of our lobbying work – and we hope that some or all of the feedback we submitted during the consultation will be adopted in the final version to give even more clarity on the importance of guardianship.”
Since 1994 AEGIS has been purely focused on promoting the welfare of international students studying in the UK. “The sole aim of our charity, which offers the highest level of inspection and accreditation of guardianship organisations, is to make sure international students are well cared for and supported during their time here. The new standard is a step in the right direction and importantly, will help to ensure that international students are safe outside of school,” Yasemin adds.
Finally, there is likely to be an increased responsibility for agents to discuss the need for a ‘credible’ guardian much earlier in the school placement process. Some agents combine guardianship services with a school placement service, but it is likely that under the new Standards schools will be asking all agents to confirm guardianship arrangements much earlier in the recruitment process to show they have done due diligence.
As Julia Evans adds, “Often the role of the guardian is not explained to parents fully early enough in the school placement process; it is an additional cost that some agents don’t like to explain until the last minute. However, in future, it is really likely schools will be insisting that the selection of the guardian is completed well before the CAS [Certificate of Acceptance of Studied] is issued and we welcome this change.”