The pandemic has heightened, like never before, the vital role guardians play in supporting families and their children during stressful times.
The core roles of the guardian to organize a host family for a child to stay with during short school holidays and weekend closures (except weekends) and to help organize return trips home during longer holidays are well known, but the pandemic has highlighted the broader, key role that guardians play.
Last Christmas, a rise in Covid-19 infections caused schools to close boarding houses, while the cancellation of flights caused repatriating international students a lot of trouble.
Guardians took the lead in working with parents of international students to facilitate travel plans, or in some cases arrange accommodation for children to stay in during the Christmas holidays, taking care of their wellbeing while schools were closed.
The situation showed just how valuable it is to have a guardian independent from the school who ideally lives nearby and can step in during a crisis.
New Minimum Standards that will impact guardianship are due to be introduced in September 2021. These measures are likely to include the requirement that guardians are not members of school staff.
The pandemic highlighted that having schools that offer ‘guardianship’ as part of their offer to parents is less than ideal. Having an independent voice championing the needs of international students is vital and the proposed revised standards highlight the importance of the guardian being independent of the school – and would actually prohibit school staff from acting as guardians for boarders.
This is something that is welcomed by many ethical providers working in the industry.
The new guidelines are also likely to stipulate that if a family friend is appointed then they will need to live close to the school.
As Ben Hughes from Pippa’s Guardians points out, “If a family friend is appointed, schools are already now more insistent that they live near to the school and are aware of the commitment – often this involves a phone call or even a visit to ensure standards are high and it’s a safe environment.” In future, family friends or family members acting as guardians may no longer be acceptable to many schools with the increased responsibility for pupil wellbeing ultimately falling more heavily on their shoulders.
Quality Guardianships – accredited by the BSA and inspected by AEGIS – take great care with the selection of their host families, and these families become trusted extensions of a child’s family whilst studying in the UK. Many of these relationships last even long after a child has finished studying in the UK.
Guardians can offer support in other meaningful ways too – attending sports events and sometimes parents evenings too. They are also there to support if there are medical emergencies and to liaise between the school and parents if there are issues with behavior or academic attainment.
Therefore, the cost of a guardian should never be viewed as an unnecessary expense, and picking the cheapest option is also not advised.
Making sure there is a clear contract in place between the family and the guardian before arrival in the UK is critical, and knowing what costs are included in the guardianship ‘package’ is vital. Host family costs are often not included, as the guardian will not know how many nights a child will be spending with a host family, so always make sure you are clear on what is included in the cost and what isn’t. A free Q&A on our site can guide you on what questions to ask before signing a guardianship contract.
Most importantly, start thinking early about your guardianship provider, as Julia Evans from Cambridge Guardian Angels says: “Too often the role of the guardian is not explained to parents fully early enough in the school placement process; it is an additional cost that some agents don’t like to explain until the last minute. However, in future, it is really likely schools will be insisting that the selection of the guardian is completed well before the CAS [Certificate of Acceptance of Studies] is issued and we welcome this change.”
The value of a quality guardian has always been recognised by those in the UK education market who genuinely care about the wellbeing of international pupils, but the pandemic has once and for all proved that value beyond doubt.
Pat Moores is the director of UK Education Guide, an independent source of advice and information about UK Education providers.