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The importance of guardianship in independent schools

Tim Wilbur, Director of Schools Consultancy at Gabbitas Education, highlights the importance of a home from home

Posted by Alice Savage | May 03, 2017 | International

Within the 1,280 UK independent schools who are members of the International Schools Council, there are currently over 27,000 non-British pupils whose parents live overseas (5% of
the total ISC pupil population in 2016). These pupils, whom many leading heads will say add a new dimension to the school and encourage diversity, are understandably more numerous in senior schools and
sixth forms.

So, we are talking about teenagers in the main who are living a long way from home for probably the first time whilst learning a new language and culture, away from the usual parental controls and discipline to nurture and protect them; a recipe for disaster you might say? 

Well, no. Not if they have a good guardianship agency selected by their parents to act as the local in-country contact in case of illness or emergency, or in extreme cases suspension and expulsion, and to ensure their child is well cared for at weekends and half-term breaks. Guardianship is an aspect of independent education that can sometimes go without merit, but a good guardian or host family can really improve the outcome of an international student’s education. These families become a part of a student’s life; attending parents’ meetings to represent the parents, supporting them with pastoral issues and providing a home-from-home where long-lasting friendships are created.

a good guardian or host family can really improve the outcome of an international student’s education

We have been providing guardian and host families for decades, and we have families who are still in touch with pupils they looked after 10 years ago; they arrange to visit them in their home countries, attend university graduations and are even invited to weddings. Indeed, one of our current families is one of our old pupils – she stayed in the UK after her education to work and now has an English partner. Speaking of her experience, Changying said: “I came to see my UK family as a ‘second’ family; they were so kind and reassuring. I had fun teaching them about my home country and showing them how to cook my kind of food. And now I’m enjoying the role reversal and learning about another culture – it’s very enriching.”

Guardian and host families vary enormously – there are families in large country houses and in town-centre terraced houses, some with their own children and pets and others without. Some families will be a guardian family for boarders but some will also look after pupils who attend day schools, whereby they become the host family and the student lives with them day-in-day-out throughout the term. Yet all these families have something in common; they want to help and support an international student through their education and through their teenage years. Matching the best family to the right student is what a successful guardianship agency should do.

Much as this is a very positive experience for most, however, there can be some tough times for some. There have been pupils who have gone out for the day and not returned home, those who have become ill or injured while under their care and required hospital treatment, and pupils who have shown concerning behaviour. While this is difficult for any guardian or host family, a good guardianship agency will be on hand day and night to help support them, the student and the student’s family, whilst working alongside the school.

Tim Wilbur: "We have been providing guardian and host families for decades"

We work closely with Peter Goddard, Director of Development and Engagement at Norwich School, who sees guardianship as a vital element of student support. “We needed someone who would look after the welfare of the children we bring over to the UK and we now have peace of mind 24/7,” said Peter. 

Many schools are excellent at ensuring their international pupils have a registered guardian, but some slip through the net and when things go wrong it can be costly. So, it’s worth establishing an annual procedure to check a guardian is in place, and a reliable one at that!  


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