The majority of UK boarding schools require parents of international students to appoint a UK-based guardian. “Parents should think of the appointment of a guardian as an insurance, giving them confidence and security that their children have someone keeping an eye on them,” advises Alison Blythe, Director at Students International Ltd. Guardians also provide important support and stability for students, attests Duncan Hume, Principal at White House Guardianships. “Efficient guardians act as a trusted friend to a student, listening to problems both large and small, always available in case of emergency.”
Guardians provide a number of services to support the boarding experience, especially considering that students will potentially spend several weeks outside of school through exeats (leave outs) and half-term holidays. “A lot of emphasis is put on care while they are at school, but during short holidays and leave weekends, and on airport transfers, it is vital that care is seamless and that everyone taking care of them [students] are good, honest people who have their safety at heart,” explains Lana Foster, Managing Director of Bright World Education and Guardianships.
Moreover, during term time guardians are people students may be able to turn to with pastoral or academic problems. Guardians are, according to Blythe, “an important link in the chain of responsibility shared by the many who are involved in the care and education of the student”. Jimmy Wong, Chief Executive of agency, Hong Kong Overseas Studies Centre, confirms that guardians provide an important contact for agents and parents. “They can also act as parents during the school parents day, and depending on the services [the parents] choose, guardianship companies also visit students and report back to agencies and families,” he adds.
For Alison Warne at Guardians UK, guardians provide “knowledge that someone is here in the UK particularly in an emergency”. Recent drastic events have highlighted guardians’ crucial role. Foster advises, “Schools are becoming more aware of the need for good guardians recently, in view of unusual emergency situations such as volcanic ash and recent snow coinciding with departures and arrivals, making the guardianship company vital.” Hume recounts, “One headmaster commented after a near-disaster: ‘It was only such an event that bought home to me just how important a good guardian is.’ This was after one of our staff had personally escorted an upset child home to Hong Kong.”
Despite the necessity of guardians, the sector is surprisingly not as tightly regulated as other areas of international education. All contributors to this article therefore strongly recommended agents and parents to seek a guardianship provider that is a member of the Association for Education and Guardianship of International Students (Aegis) see the box below.
Support network systems can differ between providers. White House Guardianships (WHG) has a team of coordinators, each based within easy reach of the schools in their area. Hume attests, “Having such a wide spread of local representation gives comfort to parents and school staff, knowing that a WHG person is close-by to react swiftly and sympathetically to every need.” Foster says Bright World has an office-based team of local coordinators dealing with administration, who meet students at school and attend parents evenings, and host families who take students for the holidays. Students International appoints families as close as possible with Blythe and her assistant personally overseeing all aspects of the guardianship. The years of experience that these long-established guardianship providers have accrued are crucial in building trust with schools. “Our relationship with schools is vital,” attests Foster. “Over the years we have got to know house staff really well, and they do appreciate the careful and timely communications we offer them regarding our arrangements.”
One trend impacting the nature of guardianships is a rise in international day school students. “The increasing number of day pupils from overseas brings extra responsibility to guardians, both with full-time host families and Social Services officers. Younger students are, of course, regarded as foster children and given the same degree of supervision and protection,” explains Hume.
In terms of recruitment, Foster advises that Bright World receives bookings through agents, via their website and through word-of-mouth. Hume explains that agents must be part of the process, “We will accept bookings from any source, but if a placement is required we will only work through an agent on whom we rely to interview the parents and child to ensure the proposal is for good reasons, that the child has the will and maturity to succeed, and that the agent will support their progress, not just take commission and leave the scene.”
Warne adds that Guardians UK has met agents through the British Boarding Schools Workshop (BBSW) previously, and that being on a school’s list of approved providers is useful. Wong confirms as an advisor, he usually receives a list of guardianships from schools, but that he relies on three or four providers based on their accreditation, reputation and reach.
The Association for Education and Guardianship of International Students
Aegis was established in 1994 to “act as a national accreditation body to promote excellence in guardianship”, advises the Chairman, Ros Hayes. “In order to become a fully accredited member of Aegis, guardianship organisations have to successfully pass an onsite inspection by Aegis inspectors, which includes interviews with students, host families and school staff, as well as checks that the organisation is complying with its safeguarding procedures.” Organisations must also show understanding of the Code of Practice and the Guidelines for Guardianship Organisations, and have professional indemnity and public liability insurance in place. Aegis currently has 24 accredited members.