Category: Accommodation

The challenges of providing high quality pastoral care in boarding schools

“The UK’s pastoral care of international students is widely regarded overseas as being one of the major strengths of the UK boarding school… however there are concerns that loopholes still do exist”

The UK’s boarding school system is world class, and attracts students from around the world, writes UK Education Guide director and co-founder, Pat Moores. But with concerns over the lack of agreed guardianship structures, could the reputation be under threat?

The UK’s pastoral care of international students is widely regarded overseas as being one of the major strengths of the UK boarding school system and one that schools and guardians work hard to maintain.

“UK schools are distinctive in the strength of their commitment to pastoral care – they care about this almost as much as they do about academic matters. We hear that it is this ‘holistic’ approach that is so appreciated by overseas families,” said Diana Stewart Brown, Head of Operations at Keystone Tutors Singapore.

However, there are concerns that certain loopholes still do exist and this then relies on the professionalism and conscientiousness of both schools and guardians to make sure, on a case by case basis, all the gaps are filled.

The legal position according to Matthew Burgess from solicitors Veale Wasbrough Vizard is that the school never loses the overall ‘duty of care’ in the case of full time boarding pupils and in the case of day students the ‘duty of care’ rests more heavily on the guardian as the child is effectively being privately fostered and, if under 16, the family the child is living with has to be registered with social services as a foster family.

“As there is no legally defined guardian role, the provision of non-accredited services is open to interpretation”

There is a recognition that getting pastoral support right, from the very moment a child arrives in the UK, can set the tone for a child’s future happiness. Excellent continuity of communication between admissions teams, houseparents, parents and guardians is critical from day one; “the most successful handover of information from admissions to boarding staff is always achieved through conversation as well as information on file,” said Gareth Collier, principal of Cardiff Sixth Form College.

Regarding ongoing care, there seems to be some consensus from schools where challenges still exist.

“The biggest loophole is the approach that we have to school holidays. Houseparents are often the key pastoral lead in most schools but when the holidays come, and these hard working staff take a well-deserved break, [and] there is little school back up to provide often essential information to parents, students and guardians,” adds Gareth Collier.

“Strong partnerships between schools and guardians are essential to providing excellent care to each young person studying in the UK”

During holiday and exeat weekends when schools close, the role of the guardian therefore becomes even more critical. However, as Caroline Nixon, general secretary of BAISIS, pointed out: “currently neither EU nor non-EU students of any age legally have to have a guardian, although BAISIS believes it is best practice for those under 18”.

Additionally, ensuring high quality guardianship provision is a significant challenge as there is no legal framework as to what services a guardian must provide and their role also depends on the pastoral provision of each individual school.

“The guardian role can cover everything from arranging dental appointments, registering with a doctor to dealing with a child who is potentially about to be excluded from school,” said Julia Evans, Director of Cambridge Guardian Angels.

For this reason, BAISIS has recently created a template for an agreement between individual BAISIS schools and their students’ guardians which outlines the school’s expectations of a guardian’s responsibilities.

AEGIS, The Association for the Education and Guardianship of International Students, has also gone a long way to adding structure to the guardianship role. AEGIS accredits UK guardianship organisations through a rigorous inspection process and Yasemin Wigglesworth, executive officer at AEGIS, said: “more schools are now insisting that an international student has an AEGIS accredited guardian or close family member in the UK as a condition of admission.”

Currently there are approximately 27,000 International students in the UK aged 18 and under with parents living abroad, but only around 5,000 are in the care of AEGIS registered guardians. This is not to suggest that the care provided by non-AEGIS members is sub-standard but, as there is no legally defined guardian role, the provision of non-accredited services is open to interpretation by each provider and many of these students will not have a guardian at all.

As acknowledged, high quality pastoral care is something that sets UK education providers ahead of international competitors but, in the absence of legal frameworks, strong partnerships between schools and guardians are essential to both maintaining this competitive advantage and providing excellent care to each young person studying in the UK.

Challenges beyond culture: living with a host family

“’Host families come in many shapes and sizes’ is a sort of disclaimer widely stated across study abroad organisations”

Mary Beth Brungardt, a former study abroad student and intern at CIEE, writes about the unexpected challenges that can arise when staying with a homestay family.

“Host families come in many shapes and sizes” is a sort of disclaimer widely stated across study abroad organizations. There is no such thing as a “perfect” host family, nor does one single element dictate the outcome of a student’s experience.

After spending a year abroad in both high school and university, I quickly learned that cultural differences were only a fraction of what made homestays challenging.

How well a student adapts to their host family is the result of various factors. The constant in this equation is the student’s ability to accept and overcome cultural differences; norms that are apparent throughout the society as a whole. The second, more important element, is the student’s ability to adapt and relate to the individual family.

As any other pairing in life, whether it be your freshman roommate or significant other, there are core factors that make the relationship a hit or miss. At the end of the day, there needs to be common ground between both parties such as respect, communication, and mutual agreement.

The first time I studied abroad I went to Spain for my junior year of high school. Upon arriving to Madrid, my host family enthusiastically greeted me with big smiles and positive energy.

Originally from Paraguay, this family moved to Spain in search for better opportunities shortly after the oldest was born. With four host siblings, there were seven of us total in our small flat located in the northern part of the city. Money was tight. It wasn’t until the second or third week that I understood my host father worked the night shift as a janitor, sweeping floors and watching security TVs.

“As time passed, I felt as if I were a financial burden on the family and decided it was best to change”

As time passed, I felt as if I were a financial burden on the family and decided it was best to change. After extensive discussion with the program provider, we decided to wait until after the winter holidays to tell my host family about the move.

I will never forget the conversation I had at the table with my host mother. I had to explain that I needed a family that could go out and show me around town and engage in program activities.

She was disappointed about the news, a bit offended I’m sure. “Not all host families are as happy as us, but if we are not providing you with enough, we support your decision. Whatever you decide, you will always have a family here in this house.”

Her words rang through my head for months after the conversation. In their eyes, I received everything their children received. They were very content with the little they had. Moreover, they were very inclusive during the little time we spent time together.

My second host family lived all the way out in Alicante. I switched schools, left my friends, and started over halfway through the school year.

This placement was very different. On paper, it was the epitome of every exchange student’s dream. I could see the Mediterranean Sea from my bedroom window, lived in a three storey, granite-floored bungalow, and even had a pool in my backyard. I also had a host sister in my grade who was able to introduce me to people my own age.

Shortly after my arrival, my host mother informed me that my host sister was in the final stages of recovery after battling anorexia and anxiety for two years. Little did I know, anorexia is all about controlling your environment. This rubbed off on me when I tried to branch out and make my own friends, talk to new people at school, or do just about anything independently.

There was a lot of fighting between my host parents and sister about anything and everything, such as when she should wash her hair, how much she should be eating, or when and how long she studied which subjects. I went from a fully independent lifestyle in Madrid to one that was micromanaged by my host family.

I was overwhelmed. Never in my life had I felt so little autonomy. I started to wonder if I should have ever switched at all.

“I was overwhelmed. Never in my life had I felt so little autonomy”

I finished the year out in Alicante, and went home rather discouraged. Over 75 students were placed in Spain, yet their host family problems appeared to be much milder than anything I had encountered.

Despite the challenges, I decided to study abroad again during my sophomore year in university. After consulting returnees and advisors, I chose to study abroad with the Council on International Educational Exchange, as they were well-known across the board to carefully vet host families and provide great student support. I was less concerned about my destination, and more concerned about the quality of the academic and host family experience.

This time around things fell into place. During my fall semester in Seville, I had three younger host siblings. And although they fought all the time, I thoroughly enjoyed having them around. In the spring semester following, I lived with a retired couple in Santiago, Chile. Scheduling conflicts prevented us from spending much time together, but I enjoyed the little time I was able to be with them.

Upon returning to Spain, I had 36 hour layover in Madrid. Three of those hours were spent in that same small apartment in northern Madrid, catching up over a fabulous feast that far outdid our Christmas Eve dinner back in 2010.

In a few short weeks, I’ll be heading out to Shanghai, China for one last semester abroad as a senior. Dormitory housing was an option, but I’ll be living with a host family.

Homestay: the make-or-break part of a student’s study experience

“A school can provide PhD-level teachers, gold-plated desks, a perfect nationality mix, and 100% graduation rates. None of that matters if the student is getting what looks like dog food for dinner”

Cam Harvey, owner of Working With Agents Consulting, writes about the importance of open and honest communication in a strong agent-school partnership – one that always puts the health and strength of their relationship first.

“I’m fascinated by the stories in international education. And there are stories out there. Lots of highly emotional stories.  Each one often has multiple, emotionally charged versions depending on who is telling it – the school, the student, the parent, or the agent.
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The rise of luxury student accommodation – at a price

An email notification just popped up on my screen from our Directors office. Subject: “Important – Please read”. It was a link to a Tripadvisor rating of a student accommodation and a scandalous, business-harming report on the standards of trading and accommodation offered.

The post was actually written by a new user but just the negativity of the report shone a dark light on the operations of said agency.

There is a plethora of options available to university and language students in terms of living in London – some of which will be as dire as described by the student rating their experience online. Others will be in a different league, as we know from experience.

Private landlords, estate agents, private residences, homestay (accommodation with families), house shares and university halls all have something to offer to suit any budget.

There is however a new deluxe standard of accommodation emerging in London – “luxury student halls”. The rise of this ultra-modern, ultra chic accommodation has caused the cost of studying in London to increase exponentially over the last few years. The introduction of foreign developers, investors and property management companies has allowed the industry to flourish and offer their wares in a competitive market.

I recently went to see a new building in Aldgate that is being built. For a weekly cost of £225.00 a student will get a bed, desk, bathroom and cupboard in an area that is a little bigger than the cells in Alcatraz. Not to say the quality is bad, but the price per square metre is definitely on the increase.

Prices for quality accommodation in London can go from £15,000.00 per year upwards, and with  university fees increasing, students might be facing a cost of over £20,000 per year for their education. Without support from the government to increase jobs and future employment potentials, I do not see many wanting to come out of university with a £60,000.00 debt! Will they end up choosing other UK cities or will the luxury accommodation providers be forced to lower their exorbitant rates? One this is for sure, agencies offering variety rather than single accommodation options will definitely benefit with superstar cross-sellers in their team!

Nikesh Ashar is Groups Coordinator for Britannia Student Services in the UK.