The huge growth in the number of international students at British boarding schools looks set to continue and guardianship organisations are looking to recruit more and more host families willing to open their homes to international students.
The Independent School Council declares there are now 27,000 international students studying in the UK: five percent of students at 1,200 leading private schools and as high as 15 per cent at top schools like Eton and Wellington College.
There are many reasons why the number has doubled over the last 20 years. Students come to the UK to gain a world-class education and to get the grades they need to go on to study at top universities. They also perfect their language skills, learn what it is like to live and study in the UK and have the opportunity to develop new arts and sports activities they may not have access to at home.
Some boarding schools are actively pursuing a policy of diversification, encouraging a rich mixture of different cultures, religions and ethnicity; others are taking on more international students because of falling numbers of British students applying due to the rising cost of a private education. For some schools, the percentages are smaller; others have actively made international education their marketplace and USP.
In many cases the host family will help care for the student throughout their school life in the UK
Many boarding schools require a student to have an educational guardian: acting as the parental representative for the student; making sure they settle into school life happily; offering advice on their choice of study and on university application; attending parents’ meetings; visiting the students regularly to check on their welfare; organising their travel to and from school and offering an emergency contact 24 hours of the day.
Guardianship organisations provide a safe and stable environment for international students in the UK. Probably the most important part of what such an organisation does, however, is to provide host families for students during holidays and exeat weekends.
Pippa’s Guardians is an AEGIS-accredited guardianship organisation. Its host families offer students a warm home environment, time out from school and the opportunity to experience what life is really like in the UK. The best hosts are those who see the students as an extension of their own families – they will visit them at school, collect them for holidays, give them opportunities to take part in activities and visits they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Host families can come from all walks of life, but have a common purpose
AEGIS (The Association for the Education and Guardianship of International Students) accredits its members, which includes schools as well as educational guardians, with a rigorous inspection process that ensures international students receive quality guardianship while studying in the UK. This includes overseeing the way in which host families are recruited and vetted to ensure the highest safeguarding practices.
Host families come from all walks of life. Some are grandparents or parents with adult children who have left home, others have teenage children, or younger children who can also share in this cultural exchange. They all have one thing in common: a desire to make a connection with students and their families from other parts of the world.
Host families go through a thorough vetting process before they are accepted and although they receive payment for looking after students, they decide to join for a variety of reasons. In many cases the host family will help care for the student throughout their school life in the UK, meeting the student’s own family and seeing them through to adulthood. Many hosts are still in touch with students they looked after years ago. It is exceptionally rewarding.
Ben Hughes is managing director of Pippa’s Guardians W: www.pippasguardians.co.uk