Guardian schemes in the UK
Most boarding schools, and many day schools with international students on their register, ensure that all their students whose parents are resident abroad have a UK-based educational guardian.
The Tier 4 points-based system under which most students enter the UK requires ‘suitable arrangements for any children for their travel to the UK, reception at port and living arrangements while in the UK’. This is a role that would be taken on by a guardian, together with the school.
A guardian family provides a much-needed break from the hectic school routine at exeat weekends and half term holidays, with a welcome change of scene, a home-from-home where warm, long-lasting friendships are created. Having a supportive and caring family who will take an interest in your child’s wellbeing will offer you reassurance that they are safe, well cared for and happy.
What can parents expect from a guardian?
One function of a guardian is to act in loco parentis in case of emergency. This could be anything from a delayed flight, meaning a student misses travel connections, to a school unexpectedly closing down for a short time because of illness or a maintenance or safety issue. These are the sorts of things which are highly unlikely to occur, but having the ‘insurance’ of a guardian in place means a child’s welfare is properly catered for.
As well as being there in case of emergencies, an educational guardian can provide accommodation during the child’s holidays from school. Depending on how far they are from home, and whether or not they can travel back easily for short breaks, the guardian may provide a home-from-home for exeat weekends, for half term holidays and even for Christmas and Easter breaks.
A guardian will also lend support to and take an interest in the child’s progress and development at school, attending parent/teacher meetings and sports matches or music performances, and liaising with the school on pastoral matters.
"Having a supportive and caring family who will take an interest in your child’s wellbeing will offer you reassurance that they are safe, well cared for and happy."
What are the advantages of a guardian scheme?
- The school benefits from having someone who acts as a link between the child and their parents.
- The parents benefit from the fact that their child has someone looking after them with an overview of their academic and social well-being.
- The child benefits from having someone outside the school environment but nearby who can listen to them, and help and advise them.
Fran Chetwode has worked as a guardian through the White House Guardianship agency for over five years. She acts as guardian for as many as ten students a year at different schools near her home, but can only accommodate three of them during the holidays. She therefore locates ‘host’ families nearby who provide board and lodging for the students during their holidays, while Fran provides all other support.
“As well as attending parent-teacher meetings I get involved in the practical side of these children’s lives,” says Fran. “This can be anything from going out and buying some new bedlinen for them, if they want something a bit different at school, to organising specialised horse riding lessons as I am just now for a Russian student. Anything a parent would do for their child if they were closer by, I do instead.”
How do you find a guardian?
If you have a family member or friend living in the UK who is willing to act as guardian to your child during their time away from home, you can independently appoint them and your child’s school will draw up the necessary paperwork to register them as guardian. In the absence of such a person, however, schools generally refer parents to the AEGIS website where there is a full list of the accredited guardianship organisations.
The benefits of using such an organisation are many. They will offer a wide choice of carefully selected and checked families, giving you the opportunity to find the ideal guardian for your child and to change guardians if your child is unhappy. There will usually be 24-hour support, with someone on hand to provide help and guidance in any emergency or crisis, whether your child is in school or staying with a family.
As well as long experience of dealing with schools and of caring for international students, agencies can offer access to additional services relating to visa extensions, passport renewal, travel itineraries and accommodation for parents, language courses, management of your child’s finances, and arranging mobile phone accounts.
“White House offers different levels of guardianship, depending on parents’ needs. Some are more able to get involved while their child is at school overseas than others,” says Fran. “We’re always responsive to parents’ needs. We feed back to parents as often as we can, beginning with visiting the children at their school not long after they’ve started to check they’re settling in okay and leading up to end of year reports once we’ve met with their teachers. Being a guardian is a real privilege and I take great pride in looking after the children while they’re in the UK.”
What is AGEIS?
Founded in 1994 by a group of established Guardianship Organisations and boarding schools, AEGIS (The Association for the Education and Guardianship of International Students) now includes 80 UK schools/colleges and 40 Guardianship Organisations. AEGIS is an independent organisation inspecting and accrediting reputable Guardianship Organisations throughout the UK. AEGIS school/college members belong to many professional bodies and support its accreditation scheme.
" Being a guardian is a real privilege and I take great pride in looking after the children while they’re in the UK.”
Case study - Jennifer Baines
Mother of two Jennifer is registered with Alphaplus Guardian Services and has been guardian to Harry, who attends a boarding school ten miles away, for over a year. Harry is from Japan and only returns home to his parents during the longer Christmas, Easter and Summer breaks in the school year. Each time there’s an exeat weekend or a half term break from school he joins the Baines family in Fontmell Magna, Dorset.
“When he’s with us, I treat Harry just as I would a child of my own,” says Jennifer. “He’s a bit older than my children, so I make sure he has plenty of time and space to himself to wind down after a busy few weeks at school, but I don’t want him to feel in any way ‘apart’ from our family. This means that we share all our meals together and Harry mucks in with laying the table or washing up, just as we all do.
"We make sure that our time together is a real balance of relaxation and fun and also gives Harry a chance to voice any concerns he’s got about his life at school. Because we live in the countryside, there’s time for riding bikes and taking care of our horses or going for walks, all things which are pretty novel to Harry who lives in a city at home.
"My children also get a lot out of the guardianship arrangement. It’s fantastic for them to have exposure to someone from a completely different culture. They’ve learned so much from Harry, and I hope he’s learned a lot from us as well.”
The top image shows Harry, pictured right, with Jennifer's children. Photogragh: Jennifer Baines