Skip to main content

IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The residential schools investigation report


C.4: International students

11. There are significant numbers of international students who attend independent boarding schools – either British citizens whose parents live abroad or foreign nationals whose family live outside the UK. The Department for Education does not compile data on the number of overseas students who board at schools in England. However, the Independent Schools Council (ISC) statistics for 2021 identify 24,674 overseas pupils whose parents live outside the UK – just over one-third of all boarders at ISC schools.[1] Pupils at ISC schools account for approximately 80 percent of the pupils educated in the independent sector.

12. Ms Kate Richards, then the chief inspector at the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), said that “there is an increased vulnerability for these children in residential settings where parents are overseas”.[2]

13. Ms Helen Humphreys (a specialist advisor for residential care at the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted)) considered that the NMS for boarding schools should be strengthened to include a requirement for schools “to demonstrate that they had taken into account the specific needs of children who are not from this country”.[3]

Educational guardians

14. International students whose parents are not in the UK need an educational guardian if they attend a British boarding school in order to obtain the relevant visa.[4] Educational guardians act in place of the parents while the child is in the UK, supporting the child throughout their studies and providing a home for them during holidays or weekends.[5] He or she may be an individual appointed by the parents, such as a family member or a friend of the family, or the parents may use the services of an agency to provide an educational guardian.

15. Educational guardians are unregulated. There is no statutory licence, compulsory registration or training required for individuals or companies wishing to provide educational guardian services. If an educational guardian is appointed by a parent, the guardian is not required to comply with any standards or to obtain a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificate, and the school is not required to carry out any checks.[6] This means that individuals who are unsuitable to work with children, or even those who have criminal convictions for child sexual abuse, can be appointed as educational guardians.

16. Currently, the NMS for boarding schools permit a member of school staff to be appointed as the educational guardian of an international student, although some schools do not permit this.[7] As Ms Richards told us, school staff acting as educational guardians blurs boundaries, with the potential to cause problems or to prevent problems surfacing.[8] At Chetham’s in the late 1990s, for example, violin tutor Wen Zhou Li was the educational guardian of a 16-year-old girl whom he sexually abused while she was residing with him during weekends and school holidays.[9] In 2013, shortly after the arrest of Wen Zhou Li, ISI inspectors found that there was another staff member at the school who was acting as an educational guardian to a student.

17. At the time of the Phase 1 hearing (September and October 2019), the Association for the Education and Guardianship of International Students (AEGIS) was the only organisation which offered accreditation of educational guardians. In May 2020, the Boarding Schools’ Association introduced a certified guardian scheme, with similar requirements for accreditation of guardianship agencies to those of AEGIS. Educational guardian agencies which are accredited by AEGIS are required to obtain enhanced DBS checks and to provide safeguarding training for all individuals offering guardianship services, as well as to assess the suitability of host families and the accommodation provided. The educational guardians are also bound by a code of conduct and must adhere to safeguarding policies and procedures.[10]

18. Some boarding schools require parents appointing an educational guardian who is not known to them personally to use an agency accredited by AEGIS or the Boarding Schools’ Association but this is not a statutory requirement. In 2019, less than one-quarter of international students at school in England and Wales had an educational guardian provided through an AEGIS-accredited agency.[11] Ms Yasemin Wigglesworth, chief executive officer of AEGIS, told the Inquiry that there was “more regulation and licensing around looking after people’s pets in your home as a dog care business” than for looking after international pupils.[12]

19. The evidence from the schools inspectorates indicated concerns about the lack of regulation. Ms Richards considered that there needs to be some formal regulation of educational guardians and that this area remained a “significant concern”.[13] Ms Humphreys considered that there is an “insufficient number of safeguards” currently regarding educational guardians.[14]

20. Under the current NMS, the school has a duty to regularly monitor the suitability of any arrangements which it makes for the appointment of educational guardians but has no specific responsibilities in relation to educational guardians appointed by parents. In February 2021, the Department for Education completed a consultation on proposed changes to the statutory NMS for boarding schools (set out below), which would include some amendments to place increased emphasis on the responsibilities of schools for ensuring the safety of children staying with educational guardians. The proposals for revisions to the NMS include that:

Where children have guardians that have not been appointed by the school, the school takes appropriate steps to ensure that children are safe and that the guardianship arrangement is promoting the physical and emotional wellbeing of the child. Any concerns about guardianship arrangements are referred to the relevant agency”.[15]

21. The proposals also include the introduction of a prohibition on a member of school staff acting as the educational guardian for any pupil. The consultation document did not propose the introduction of a system of compulsory accreditation or regulation of educational guardians.[16]

22. Dr Tim Greene, the headteacher of Clifton College (a school where 231 out of 392 boarders had an educational guardian), considered that it would be a “massive undertaking” for individual schools to assess the guardianship arrangements of every overseas student. He questioned how such assessments would operate in practice and how consistent standards could be achieved without an external body of oversight such as AEGIS or the Boarding Schools’ Association.[17] Dr Greene’s view was that the school’s role was as a “whistleblowing point” if any children have concerns about their educational guardianship.[18]

Back to top