School exchanges can be a great way to help young people understand different countries, cultures and lifestyles. Living with a local family can really enhance these opportunities. Sports and music tours between schools in England often use home exchanges too.
Although in many countries there are few official safeguarding checks of suitability on the families that look after the visiting children, in England, schools are expected to check that parents are suitable.
The government’s statutory safeguarding guidance for schools, Keeping Children safe in Education (2018), says that schools arranging care and accommodation for school exchange visits should be aware that the parents will fulfil the criteria for ‘regulated activity’, because they are caring for non-family members between 2am and 6am.
In addition to schools using their ‘professional judgement’ to decide whether the parents are suitable, they ‘should also obtain a DBS enhanced certificate with barred list information’ on each of the parents/carers. (KCSIE 2018, page 96/97). The school may also decide to request DBS checks on anyone over the age of sixteen who also live in the home.
Looking after a visiting young person on a school exchange is usually voluntary, so the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) will not make a charge to carry out these checks. However, the umbrella body completing the checks on the school’s behalf, may charge an administration fee. It should be agreed between the schools how this fee is to be paid and by whom. Any parent signed up with the DBS Update Service could also present that information.
From September 2018, Keeping Children Safe in Education (paragraph 160), says that schools should risk assess every volunteer for suitability. This means that there should be a recorded risk assessment for everyone providing care and accommodation for visiting students, and one outcome of such assessments will be to obtain a DBS certificate.
Some schools may feel that the cost and administration involved in DBS checks on parents for school exchanges is too burdensome or expensive and will stop exchanges such as these.
If these checks don’t have to be done in the overseas country, isn’t it unfair that they have to be done here?
The Keeping Children Safe in Education (2018) can only provide guidance for schools in England. Other countries have their own legislation and close liaison with the partner school will help ensure that the overseas’ parents are suitable.
Keeping Children Safe in Education (2018) says schools ‘should’ make these DBS checks on parents, so surely that means its not statutory?
It is statutory for schools to follow the statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education (2018), and on page 3, it says that ‘should’ is used in the document ‘when the advice set out should be followed unless there is good reason not to’.
I’m not a lawyer, and to a certain extent this is open to interpretation, but I think to ignore statutory advice should not be taken lightly, and schools should have a very good reason to do so. These reasons should be thought about well in advance of any potential issue, discussed with governing bodies or trustees, and set out in ratified policy statements.
Annex E: Host families – homestay during exchange visits (page 96/97)