Many of us have fond memories of our school trips overseas, staying with families in France, Spain or Germany to practice the language and learn about life in a different country. It’s a rite of passage for many British teenagers, but in recent years the number of school exchanges have reportedly declined, perhaps partly due to the administrative burden of background checks into the families. So what exactly is the legal position?
There is no legal requirement for schools to ask parents who put themselves forward as hosts for a child to have DBS checks. However, the Department for Education recently issued a fuzzy statement saying that schools were free to apply for DBS checks if they wished. They also state that if schools choose not to DBS check parents, then they should be able to satisfy themselves that they’re not putting children at risk, and be prepared to justify their decisions if anyone challenges them. As the only way to carry out checks on parents is to do DBS checks, then it’s pretty much a requirement by the back door. There’s a considerable cost implication too. Anyone over the age of 18 living in an address would need to be checked, which could easily be four adults in some families. It soon becomes obvious why some schools are moving away from the exchange model and into other types of language trips without lodging in family homes.
Checking Foreign Hosts
Of course, checking that British families are suitable people to be hosting children from France, Germany or Italy is only half of the issue. The whole point of an exchange is that the British children then head overseas to repeat the experience with host family in France. DBS is a UK only scheme. Each country has a separate system for checking people working with vulnerable groups, and checking up on host families might not even be legally possible. For example, although a system exists in Germany similar to DBS, under German law schools are not allowed to ask parents to apply for a check to be done. In France, schools are explicitly blocked from asking for their equivalent of the DBS as any convictions are felt to be private, and not information which should be shared with the school.
Implications for School Trips
The administrative burden of checking parents here in the UK, and the hurdles placed in the way of checking out parents overseas means that many schools are abandoning the idea of an exchange altogether. This also means that school trips become more expensive as parents are paying for accommodation and food rather than this being provided by a host family. It can also be argued that students are getting a less immersive experience as they’re spending more time with their English-speaking peer group and less time with native speakers. It seems very much as if the school exchange is a thing of the past, which is a pity.