What is required to become an educational guardian for international students?
I am asked this question on a weekly basis by people thinking of setting up as a guardian/guardianship company and I still find it uncomfortable to answer. AEGIS is, after all, the accrediting body for UK guardianship organisations so you would expect there to be some legislation or regulation in place. However, the answer is ‘nothing’. Nothing is legally required. Anyone can set up as an educational guardian, start caring for young people/children and advertising their services to overseas parents. Say that out loud to a stranger and it really does sound alarming.
Anyone can also become a homestay and host international students in their home, students being ‘children’. No checks of the accommodation are required; no DBS checks of household members or character reference checks are required. Unless of course the stay is 28 consecutive days or longer, in which case the local authority would need to be notified and checks would be carried out. Students tend to return home for the longer summer holidays but less so for the other shorter school holidays and exeats. Do all schools and overseas parents really know who is looking after their children and where their children are staying during these breaks?
The lack of regulations around the care of international students, aged 18 and under studying in the UK, make guardianship a grey area. This is why the Association for the Education and Guardianship of International Students (AEGIS) exists. The charity, set up in 1994 by a group of heads of independent boarding schools and owners of guardianship organisations, evolved from the desire to protect and safeguard these children. International students are considered a vulnerable group by UK safeguarding experts. The core work of AEGIS is the accreditation of guardianship organisations through a rigorous programme of inspections, providing peace of mind to schools and overseas parents that students are safe during school holidays. The level of care provided by guardianship organisations extends beyond school holidays now, some catering for day pupils as well as boarders, and provide year round support both practically and emotionally.
Guardianship organisations, small and large, have the opportunity to demonstrate that they meet the AEGIS minimum standards. It is not obligatory, inspection and re-accreditation every four years come with cost implications for the companies. This is something our accredited guardianship companies are willing to invest in, keen to work to the highest standards of safeguarding of international students. This is because they are professional, experienced, caring organisations.
Of course I am bound to say this as I work for AEGIS. But I really don’t think that you can work in this sector and not care, or believe in the need for AEGIS. At the age of 20, I was an international student studying at a European university, struggling to get to grips with the language and culture. Once settled, it was the best experience and the special link with that country is long lasting. I can only imagine what it must be like for a young child at school, far from home, family, friends and familiarity, having to cope with a new environment. These children are incredible. Equally, the experience and support of UK schools and guardianship organisations is invaluable.
‘Anyone can set up as an educational guardian’. Anyone can, it’s true, but the level of hard work, care and commitment required should not be underestimated, and neither should the rigour of the AEGIS minimum standards that the AEGIS accredited companies adhere to.