Over the years I have heard many horror stories about host family accommodation for international students who are studying in the UK. These include cases where students live in rooms with no electricity or light, are given the bare minimum of food, or who are completely left to their own devices and have absolutely no one who is responsible for overseeing their care outside school hours.
The most worrying aspect is that this situation often doesn’t get checked by either the schools or the parents; it seems that once there is a name of a ‘guardian’ it is then trusted and accepted. This is neglect, but it gets missed (or ignored) as these students are from overseas and often they don’t understand what is the norm.
This is allowed to happen because there is no legal requirement to have a guardian in the UK. But there should be. I firmly believe that, as part of the visa application process, it should be a legal requirement to ensure that ‘guardians’ have been thoroughly checked to ensure they meet certain standards. The wellbeing and safeguarding of these pupils should be a top priority, especially given that many of them are minors/young teenagers and are staying alone in this country for the first time.
One can’t blame the parents as such; this is likely to be an entirely new and foreign (literally) concept meaning they can easily be drawn in by a convincing local agent mistakenly put their entire trust in them. Of course not all agents are guilty of this and luckily it is only a minority that work this way.
But safeguarding of international students is certainly an area in which schools need to improve on. During term time, the protection of their pupils is a top priority, however when the term comes to an end it can be a different matter. Usually, as long as a name and address is provided as to where the student will be staying then that is enough information. Again, we cannot tar all with the same brush here, some schools are very good and have strict protocols for things such as the confirmation of guardianship, the documentation they require for this and the information they need at the start of half terms. However others are not, and this is where the concern for these pupils lies.
With 13,000 international students due to start at British schools for the new academic year, this is an issue close to our hearts and although it isn’t a legal requirement, I would like to think we could all agree that it should at the very least be best practice. The aim should be for these students to have their own ‘UK family’ where they can spend their school breaks in a happy, comfortable and cared for environment. One of our host families explained it perfectly, “Being a host family is all about sharing your family life with an international student who is away from home. There will be huge cultural differences for them to overcome and part of the role is to bridge the gap in their knowledge and experience. In preparing to be a guardian or host family your home does not need to be perfect, you just need to be welcoming and offer a listening ear when needed and develop a relationship based on familiarity and trust”.
So please remember, if you are based in a school with a responsibility for international students let’s all team up and put their safeguarding as a top priority, whether this be during term time or holidays. If you are working with a credible agency or guardian/host family they will share your wish and have procedures and policies in place to ensure this, which they will likely be more than happy to share with you.
Best practice has to be the way forward for now, but one can only hope that visa application laws will change in the future to force a better system for everyone.