Schools are abandoning foreign exchange trips because of the burden of doing background checks on the British host families, headteachers have warned.
The rules are designed to protect pupils from abusers, but their impact on exchange programmes has been described as ‘catastrophic’.
Many long-running schemes are being axed, with other UK schools accommodating foreign pupils in hotels or hostels, only allowing them to practise their language skills in hosts’ homes during the day.
Schemes across schools in the UK are being axed and foreign exchange trips are being abandoned
According to the British Council, the proportion of independent schools running language exchange programmes has fallen from 77 per cent in 2014 to 53 per cent this year. Meanwhile, just 29 per cent of state schools run such schemes.
New Department for Education guidelines recommend that British schools ensure all adults in a host family undergo an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check before they take in a foreign pupil. The service uncovers criminal convictions and checks whether names are registered on any database which bars them from working with children.
While the guidelines are not a legal requirement, schools cannot ignore them for fear of being sued later if a foreign pupil ends up being abused during an exchange.
Bernard Trafford, a former head teacher of 28 years and now an education campaigner, said teachers are reluctant to ask parents to undergo the ‘intrusive’ checks, which also impose a ‘huge administrative burden’ on schools.
‘The guidelines have had a catastrophic impact on school exchange programmes,’ he said. ‘Parents are reluctant to do the checks as they are just too intrusive. It has led to so many schools abandoning exchange programmes. Also, although parents in Britain have to undergo DBS checks, parents in Germany or France do not have to undergo a similar one. Nobody can think of a case where a foreign pupil was abused in a British home when they were staying here on exchange.’
Mike Buchanan (pictured above), of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference said children will miss out on language learning
Experts warn that the guidelines still cannot guarantee a child will be safe because they do not cover other adults visiting the host family.
Tiffin School in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, is one of the latest to change its exchange programme. Instead of placing pupils from Germany in British homes, the all-boys grammar school will put them up them in local hotels. However, its pupils who go to Germany will be allowed to stay in their hosts’ homes.
The school declined to comment, but a source said teachers did not even approach parents to do a DBS check, knowing it would be too intrusive and put a ‘colossal administrative burden’ on the school.
The source said: ‘We know it is not a legal requirement, but we did not want to take the risk.’
Nick Mair, former head of the Independent Schools Modern Languages Association, warned that abandoning exchange programmes will mean fewer students taking up modern language A-levels, adding: ‘When you have pupils coming over to stay in hotels, it diminishes the experience.’
Mike Buchanan, of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, added: ‘The inevitable decrease in exchange visits means children are missing out on irreplaceable language learning.’