How to make the value of Guardianship more transparent to international parents

“The role of a good guardian is so much more than knowing the whereabouts of a child when the school is closed”

There is currently no legal requirement for an international pupil to have a formal guardian appointed whilst studying in the UK. The selected school is the Tier 4 Visa sponsor and is therefore ultimately legally responsible for the child’s wellbeing whilst he/she is in the UK.

However, no one really argues that Guardianship, when performed well, is of huge value to young international students. The challenge is what a guardianship service should include and at what cost to better ‘make the case’ for international parents to appoint a guardian.

An initial challenge seems to be that the merits of Guardianship are introduced too late in the pupil recruitment process and therefore don’t get included in the financial planning process families go through before deciding on a UK education. As Yasemin Wigglesworth, executive officer of AEGIS, the Association for the Education and Guardianship of International Students says, “Education and guardianship should be considered simultaneously.”

One reason perhaps that Guardianship is introduced so late into the process is that some agents, without their own Guardianship services to sell, do not want to put off parents by raising the issue of additional costs that Guardianship involve. Also, sometimes parents are unaware until very late in the recruitment process of additional times when schools close, like exeat weekends, and are therefore not immediately aware of the need to have some guardianship services to take of their child during these times, if nothing else.

However, the role of a good guardian is so much more than knowing the whereabouts of a child when the school is closed. As Caroline Nixon, General Secretary, British Association of Independent Schools with International Students points out: “It is so important that there is someone there for the child who is independent of the school.

“Additionally, it is hard to see how a school can comply with visa requirements to be aware of the student’s whereabouts in the UK at all times unless there is a good guardian and it is astonishing that guardians are not presently required to conform to any regulations.”

The lack of regulation of Guardianships and therefore the variation in their quality is a point picked up by Mike Oliver, principal of Brooke House College:

“One of our problems is that agents who offer international students to UK schools are more often than not running guardianship arms to their agencies as well. These are not that good and hugely expensive in my opinion. As a consequence, many international parents are ‘turned off’ by the prospect of having a guardian.”

So how can accredited, highly respected Guardianship companies present their services in a more compelling way?

AEGIS accreditation is one way to establish ‘quality credentials’ in the market. AEGIS is a registered charity and offers an accrediting and inspection service for Guardians and therefore there is peace of mind that AEGIS ‘approved’ Guardianships will offer high-quality care. As Gareth Collier, principal, Cardiff Sixth Form College says, “there is a real place for ‘proactive guardianship’. Relationship building with families is the key to excellent service and to combatting the feeling that it is an unnecessary expense.”

Julia Evans, director of Cambridge based guardianship agency CGA summarised this as “Proactive guardianship can enhance the pastoral and compliment the academic experience of International students coming to schools in the UK, while AEGIS accreditation gives parents and schools confidence that the care will be of the highest quality and value.”

Also, quality Guardianships can perhaps help themselves more by offering a transparent inclusive fee structure to parents. Understandably, Guardianships sometimes feel uncomfortable publishing their fees, as it is clearly very hard to calculate exactly what each child will require, depending on the specific health, behavioural, academic and travel challenges they might face during their time in the UK.

“However, it is difficult to imagine that this lack of transparency is helping good Guardianships dispel the myth that their services are too expensive if they are unwilling to provide upfront costs”

Schools also need to step up to support quality Guardianships. Often they do not insist that a child has a formal Guardianship arrangement in place at the time of recruitment. Sometimes schools just require a box to be ticked on an application form to say there is a guardian in place and to provide a name and address of the ‘responsible’ adult. However, too often this information isn’t verified or checked adequately until a problem occurs…

Therefore the challenge is significant but has to start with schools and quality agents promoting accredited Guardianship services at the start of their relationships with every family. Also, best practice must be supported by Guardianship regulations and legislative clarification that a formal guardianship is set up for each international student before they arrive in the UK.

 About the author:  Pat Moores is director and co-founder of UK Education Guide.