I came across this eloquently written article from 2017 for Boarding Schools Magazine, by two trustees Anne-Marie Slack (former Registrar of Sherborne International) and Adam Lubbock (then Director of Boarding at Woodbridge School, now AEGIS Chair). Not many people know the meaning of the wheel of the AEGIS logo and that it actually represents a protective shield. This was the clever idea of Andrew Sutherland, one of the founders of AEGIS and director of Sutherland Education. Here is the story behind it…
The Shield, the Protector
Aegis is a word of Greek origin and means shield or protector. The Association for the Education and Guardianship of International Students – acronym AEGIS is therefore aptly named.
Since its creation in 1994, AEGIS has been a reassuring protector for young overseas students at school in the UK.
How so, one might ask?
Just imagine sending your beloved child to be educated thousands of miles away in the care of strangers, in an environment and culture very different from your own. What a brave leap of faith! The parents choose the school they perceive will be best for their child, they conform to the school’s requirements of appointing an educational Guardian to represent them and their child in the UK. So far all the right steps have been taken, and the parents can rest assured that their child is in the best possible care at all times whilst in the UK. For school to have a Guardianship Policy is one thing, but the need for schools to be knowledgeable about the bounds of their care and responsibilities is more involved than they might expect.
When a parent appoints a guardian, the school is also reassured that measures exist to protect the student at travel times, exeats weekends, half – terms and so on, because the appointed guardian’s job is to oversee that care is appropriate and safe.
As a Tier 4 Sponsor, the school should be aware of the Sponsor Guidelines. Paragraph 3.26 (Document 2) states that: Sponsors who recruit a child under the age of 18 must ensure suitable care arrangements are in place for them in the UK. This must include arrangements for their;
b) reception when they arrive in the UK; and
c) care while in the UK.
So the question here is “How secure is the school in knowing that the guardian chosen by the parent is acting appropriately in dealing with standards of care, for which the school is ultimately responsible for?”
If a Tier 4 Trusted sponsor school is to fulfil its duties by the UK Visa and Immigration Service under paragraph 3.26 (c), how can it do so, when it is not fully in control of the out of school care arrangements for a child?
All schools with overseas students have anecdotal evidence of mishaps, misunderstandings and flagrant flouting of welfare procedures in the conduct of overseas students whilst out of the care of the school. These include staying in accommodation with undesirable individuals, being left alone in hotel rooms or B & B’s, not flying home and living it up in big cities. The list can go on and on, and some parents may even condone these practices. The quality and reliability of a guardian will play a vital part in the outcome of such incidents, but the school is often frustrated in its reaction for the simple reason that the guardian is the appointee of the parents, who are themselves under pressure from their children to gain freedom in the holiday periods.
Parents are theoretically free to choose whoever they wish as the guardian for their child. The parents pay the piper. But what if the chosen guardian does not meet the child protection standards expected of the school? What if the chosen guardian is unreliable, and inconsistent? Who will suffer? The child, of course. But unfortunately, the sponsor school will also have to bear responsibility for any safeguarding issue regarding that child, and may therefore be at risk of losing its sponsor licence. This is a fact and not something to dismiss.
Any Sponsor school is only too aware of the minefield it has to negotiate in order to remain compliant under UKVI regulations. In addition, detailed policies and procedures are crafted to assuage the myriad of statutory requirements imposed on the school for the welfare of the child, but here lies the paradox: The school is ultimately responsible for the welfare of that child out of school, with its duty of care, yet it cannot exercise full control over that care whilst the child is under the auspices of the guardian.
So where does AEGIS, the protector, fit into this complex relationship?
AEGIS exists to support schools and Guardianship Organisations to promote the welfare of overseas boys and girls studying in the UK. Independent, trained inspectors collaborating with AEGIS have developed a framework for the rigorous inspection and ultimate accreditation of Guardianship Organisations. By seeking to uphold the highest level of care of overseas students in accordance with a strict code of practice and current Child Protection legislation, AEGIS endorses those Guardianship Organisations which want to be recognised by students, parents and schools as offering a protective shield beyond reproach.
Member Guardianship Organisations support the work of AEGIS through an annual membership fee, as do many schools. The collaboration between Guardianship Organisations and schools has but one purpose: to set up that quality shield and protection of the highest care at all times for overseas students in UK schools. Schools benefit as much from the work of AEGIS as Guardianship Organisations do, and by becoming AEGIS members, schools are subscribing to a vital component in the care of overseas students at school in the UK. More and more schools now insist through their Guardianship Policies that only AEGIS accredited Guardianship Organisations or an appropriate close relative be appointed to care for their child. For the school the risk of losing its sponsorship licence is only too real. Ultimately this could be catastrophic for the schools involved whatever the size of their international student cohort.
Therefore it is not only the student who needs safeguarding, it is the school and its boarding provision as well.