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AEGIS Clarification of New Educational Guardian Standard, NMS for Boarding Schools

By Aegis UK July 25, 2022

The publication of the revised National Minimum Standards for Boarding Schools (NMS) was a keenly anticipated event for schools, guardians, agents and the education community as a whole.  Much speculation had been circulating within the guardianship sector as to the possible changes, and what these might mean for those supporting international students at UK boarding schools. AEGIS has been working hard in recent years; lobbying and consulting with the Department for Education (DfE) to promote clearer and more explicit mention of educational guardianship in the Standards.  We have felt strongly that such a key aspect of international student care should be given greater focus, and that clearer guidance should be given to help schools provide the best possible support to their students.
When the new NMS appeared on 20th May, we were delighted to see a new Standard (22) devoted to educational guardianship.  This is a huge step forward, and exactly what we had hoped for.  Overall, the new guidance gives greater and more specific responsibility to schools for the quality of guardianship, whether or not they have had a hand in appointing the guardian.  This brings the Standards into alignment with schools’ Visa Sponsor obligations, which already assume an overall responsibility for a student while they remain in the UK, and should encourage closer working relationships between schools and guardians to ensure that support is seamless, and does not stop at the school gate.

Yasemin Wigglesworth stated: “We are delighted to see a new standard on guardianship and to see AEGIS recognised as an external organisation.  AEGIS accredited guardians are fully vetted and must meet high safeguarding standards in order to be accredited, in turn helping boarding schools meet the new standards around the care of students under educational guardians.”

Schools have been working hard to interpret the new Standards, and make sure that they are able to meet requirements for September, when they will come into force.  AEGIS has a growing community of member schools, and as soon as the new Standards appeared, we launched a programme of support, answering queries and holding webinars and Q & A sessions to discuss the document with our members, and the implications for their practice. 
We followed up our webinars with a meeting with the DfE, in the pursuit of obtaining further clarity for our schools, to ensure they can approach September with best possible understanding of their responsibilities. In this highly productive meeting, the DfE gave us some useful insights into their intentions for the Standards, and their expectations as to how schools should approach them.  We were able to pass this invaluable information on to our schools, who can now approach the new academic year with greater confidence.

What are the key changes for Guardianship in the revised NMS?

The revised NMS contain a new Standard – 22, which relates to Educational Guardians.   

22.1: All educational guardians appointed by the school are subject to the same safer recruitment procedures as staff.

22.2 Where the school is responsible for appointing educational guardians it regularly monitors the suitability of its arrangements.

The first two points within the new standard emphasise the importance of vetting and safer recruitment procedures.  However, schools very rarely appoint a guardian; guardianship is typically a contract between parent and guardian, who will act in loco parentis.  In any case, appointing an AEGIS accredited guardian will ensure that these areas are covered, as they are fundamental requirements within our Quality Standards

22.3 Whether an educational guardian is appointed by the school or a parent/carer the school takes appropriate steps to ensure that the guardianship arrangement is promoting the welfare, physical wellbeing and emotional wellbeing of the boarder.

The existing NMS gives schools responsibility for monitoring guardianship only when the school itself has made the appointment.  However as anticipated, the revised document extends this responsibility to all guardianship of students in a school’s care, regardless of who has chosen the guardian.  Following our discussion with member schools, it became clear that their greatest concern relates to the common scenario of the non-accredited  ‘family friend’ acting as guardian to an international student.  A close friend might well be the most suitable choice in terms of a child’s wellbeing, but how does a school vet such a guardian and take the ‘appropriate steps’ described in the new Standards?
Family members and family friends
The DfE confirmed to us that, where parents have appointed a family friend or family member, schools will need to be comfortable with the arrangement. However, schools will not be expected to visit or carry out lengthy vetting.  A telephone call to the appointed guardian in order to check that the arrangement is legitimate, and also a conversation with the student after stays outside of school to ensure they are happy, were deemed to be appropriate steps.  Schools are to use their own judgement on a case-by-case basis.
AEGIS accredited guardians
DfE confirmed that where a student has an AEGIS accredited guardian, this will meet the standard.  The high level of due-diligence and inspection involved in our accreditation process more than satisfy the requirements.

22.4 Any concerns about an educational guardianship arrangement should be acted upon immediately and referred to any relevant agencies.

Any concerns about a child’s welfare with regard to a guardian or homestay arrangement, should be reported to the local safeguarding partnership who will be able to carry out an assessment of the living arrangements. And of course any concerns regarding an AEGIS guardian should be reported to AEGIS.  A key benefit of choosing an AEGIS accredited guardian is the accountability it allows.  AEGIS will investigate any issues reported to us about an accredited guardian and we do, occasionally, suspend those who fall short of our expectations. 

22.5 Under no circumstances should school staff be appointed as an educational guardian for boarders.

There has long been an uneasiness about the idea of schools providing their own guardianship to pupils.  It has been argued that effective safeguarding requires independent support, and indeed that such arrangements represent a potential conflict of interest.  This view has now been formally reflected in the new Standards.  There is no mention of whether school staff can act as a host or ‘homestay’ for a student in their care.  The hosting function is often a delegated role, where the host is not the designated ‘guardian’.  However, we would argue that if the spirit of this new Standard is to encourage guardianship independent of school, staff should not act as hosts to students.

We would advise that the school’s guardianship policy and agreement should be kept up-to-date so that any appointed guardian understands their role as guardian and the school’s expectations of the standard and level of care provided for students.
AEGIS will continue to support its member schools as they prepare and implement procedures to meet the new Standards. We look forward to continuing with our programmes of training, advice and general support as we begin the next academic year. 
Effective safeguarding for international students is at the heart of good guardianship, and we welcome the new NMS for Boarding, which will help to tighten up guidelines, and ensure that children receive the highest possible levels of support both in and outside of school.  The boarding school experience of an international student in the UK is not just limited to time spent inside the school gates.  Exeats, holidays and travel make up a key part of the boarding school journey, and the new Standards will hopefully help ensure that schools and guardians work together to support this experience as a whole.
If you would like further information on the new NMS, educational guardianship or AEGIS school membership, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the AEGIS team.