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Safeguarding international students


A couple of years ago the Boarding Schools Association (BSA) was alerted by the Home Office to the dangers of some unscrupulous agents using boarding schools as a means of trafficking young people into the UK for sexual exploitation.

Schools were advised to take particular care, especially when dealing with agents with whom they were not familiar. The BSA is planning to launch an accredited agent scheme as part of its response to this but has not issued any specific guidance to members.

The rules governing international students are contained within guidance issued by the Home Office and this should be read alongside the DfE guidance on keeping children safe in education.

All education providers must be licensed (‘Tier 4’ arrangements) to take international students and this licence can be revoked if they fail to meet statutory requirements. Read the Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance from the Home Office, which sets out the requirements for education providers wishing to apply for, and hold, a licence.

Once an international student is in this country it is incumbent on the school or college to know where they are, where they are going, who they are with and have permission to travel, at all times, until they leave the country.

Following an incident involving an international student on roll at a Devon school, the Devon Children & Family Partnership is issuing safeguarding guidance to all schools and colleges that accept students from overseas onto their roll.

The use of agents

The majority of schools and colleges only use the services of agents with whom they already have an established relationship. Schools and colleges should be wary of any unsolicited approaches from overseas agents who are unknown to them.

An internet check alone to establish whether or not they are bona fide is insufficient. Schools should only accept a new agent if they have met them or, at the very least, spoken with them using Skype.
In addition, they should request references and ask the police to carry out checks. If they have any concerns about an agent they should notify the police.


Schools and colleges can either use the services of a guardianship company or individual guardians (who are often relatives or close family friends of the child/young person). Guardianship companies ensure that individuals they employ have undergone the relevant checks (DBS).

Private guardians should only be nominated by the child’s parents or carers and not by the agent. If a relative or close family friend is hosting a child or young person the school should have regular conversations with the child/young person to ensure they are safe and being well looked after.
The schools should also maintain regular contact with both the guardian and the parents/carers in order to establish an ongoing relationship with them.

School holidays

Before the child or young person leaves the school or college site, the school or college should speak to the guardian and, if the child won’t be staying with that person, the person with whom they will be staying.

You should check with the parents or carers that the child has their permission to go there and establish their relationship with the child, if any. You must also confirm the address and the time at which the child will arrive at the address.

You should also agree a plan with the parents and guardian about what would happen if the child fails to arrive or if transport arrangements are disrupted (for example, the train or flight is delayed).
If the child subsequently leaves the address the guardian must inform the school or college of the child’s onward destination and confirm arrival at that address.

Safeguarding responsibilities

Schools and colleges should make clear in all contracts with parents, agents and guardians that they have a safeguarding responsibility.

At any time in the process of contact with any of these people or if the child goes missing, the school or college should notify the police, using the Partnership Information Form, and children’s social care, if there are any concerns for the safety and wellbeing of the child.

Unless and until the child has returned to their home country, the school or college has a safeguarding responsibility towards them and must discharge this in accordance with statutory guidance and the law, irrespective of whether the school or college is in receipt of fees and/or the child is on the school or college roll.

Appendix 1: Tier 4 requirements (extracts from the guidance)

Tier 4: Age requirements and child welfare

Tier 4 (general) applicants must be at least 16 years of age.
Tier 4 (child) applicants must be:

  • at least 4 years old
  • under the age of 18

If the Tier 4 (general) or Tier 4 (child) applicant does not meet the age requirement, you must refuse their application.

Safeguarding/child welfare

Under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, the Home Office and all its members of staff have a duty to safeguard and promote child welfare. The definition of children includes all students under the age of 18. Arrangements for the student’s care and accommodation in the UK must comply with UK legislation and inspection regulations.

  • Accommodation of students under 18 by further education colleges: national minimum standards and inspection regulations Page 54 of 153 Published for Home Office staff on 10 January 2019.
  • Boarding schools: national minimum standards, inspection regulations.
  • Residential special schools: national minimum standards, inspection regulations.

Parental support for under 18s on Tier 4

Tier 4 (child) students and Tier 4 (general) students who are under the age of 18 must have their application supported by their parents or legal guardian. You must ensure the letter from their parent or legal guardian:

  • confirms the relationship between the parent or legal guardian and the child
  • confirms that the parent or legal guardian consents to the application
  • confirms that the parent or legal guardian consents to the child’s living arrangements in the UK
  • is signed by both parents or legal guardians, or just one parent or guardian if they have sole responsibility for the child

Private foster care or care from a close relative

Students must show that they have suitable arrangements in place for their care if they will be living with a resident British citizen or other settled UK resident who is a close relative or in a private foster care arrangement.

An applicant must provide a written undertaking from the intended carer confirming the care arrangement. You must ensure this includes:

  • the intended carer’s name, current address and contact details
  • the address where the carer and the child will be living in the UK, if different from the intended carer’s current address
  • confirmation that the accommodation offered to the child is a private address, and not operated as a commercial enterprise, like a hotel or a youth hostel
  • confirmation that the intended carer has at least £570 per month to look after and accommodate the Tier 4 (Child) student for the length of the course
  • the nature of the relationship between the child’s parent or legal guardian and the intended carer
  • that the intended carer agrees to the care arrangements for the child
  • the signature and date of the undertaking

You must check that the intended carer is settled in the UK. They must provide proof, which must be either their carer’s:

  • current UK or European Union passport
  • current passport or travel document to confirm they are settled in the UK
  • certificate of naturalisation – Tier 4 (Child) applicants who are living with a carer must also provide a letter from their parent or legal guardian

You must check that the letter confirms:

  • the nature of the relationship between the child’s parents or legal guardian and the intended carer
  • the address where the carer and the child will be living in the UK
  • that the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) authorise the carer to take responsibility for the care of the child during their stay in the UK

If a student is living with a close relative, no other documentation is required.

Close relatives

A close relative, parent or legal guardian caring for the child is not considered to be a private foster carer and so will not need to register with a UK local authority.
A close relative is a person aged 18 or over who is the child’s:

  • grandparent
  • brother
  • sister
  • step-parent
  • uncle (the brother or half-brother of the child’s parent)
  • aunt (the sister or half-sister of the child’s parent)

Private foster care

Children under 16 years old (or under 18 years old if disabled) are privately fostered when they are cared for on a full-time basis for more than 28 days by adults, who are not their parents, legal guardians or a close relative.

It is the responsibility of the parent, carer, and anyone else involved in making the private fostering arrangement, including the Tier 4 (child) sponsor, to notify their UK local authority of the private fostering arrangement.

In the UK, local authorities are responsible for safeguarding and protecting children. They must make sure private foster carers are suitable and they get any support and guidance that they may need to help them care for the child.

If a Tier 4 (child) is staying in a private foster care arrangement, they must receive permission from the private foster carer’s UK local authority. This is explained in Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005. You must check that a child student who is staying in a private foster care arrangement has provided:

  • a copy of the letter of notification from the child’s parent, legal guardian or intended carer to the UK local authority – this must confirm the child will be in the care of a private foster carer while in the UK – for more information on what the letter of notification must contain, see schedule 1 of Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005
  • the UK local authority’s confirmation of receipt – this must confirm that the local authority has received notification of the foster care arrangement

Tier 4 of the Points Based System: Guidance for Sponsors