Has the School Foreign Exchange Had Its Day?

The school foreign exchange used to be a rite of passage for so many British teens. We’d head off to some remote part of France, Spain or Germany to spend a week living with the family of someone we’d been matched with by school. Then at some point in the following term, the foreign student would come back to the UK, to experience British life. This model worked well for decades. Swapping accommodation between families cuts down on the costs for the trip. Being forced into speaking the language is one of the most effective ways of learning. However, statistics show that the number of students taking part in language exchanges is tumbling. It seems that this decrease is down to DBS checks, and schools’ fear of prosecution.

School Foreign Exchanges – The Law

There is no law which says that families who are hosting students from elsewhere in the world need a DBS check. Hosting a teenager on the understanding that your child will receive the same treatment is very different from taking in paying student lodgers. Although DBS checks are not a legal requirement, guidance from the government says that it’s a good idea to check all people over the age of 18 who live in a home where an overseas minor will be staying. Schools are unwilling to ignore the guidelines through fear of being sued should something happen. Despite the fact there are no recorded cases of abuse against a foreign exchange students, it’s not a risk they are willing to take.

Why not just DBS check everyone?

The obvious solution would be to ask everyone to have DBS checks before the exchange happens. This isn’t as simple as it might seem though. Everyone over the age of 18 would need a check. This could easily run into dozens of checks for the average exchange. Someone at school has to be prepared to take on the administrative task of organising all the checks. Checks also have to be paid for. Who foots the bill – the individual or the school? There are also privacy concerns. If you had committed very minor crimes decades ago would you really want your child’s school knowing about it? It’s hardly surprising that many schools just don’t want to get into the DBS minefield, and are looking for alternative ways to accommodate visiting students from overseas.

UK students abroad

It’s also worth remembering that foreign students in the UK is just half of the exchange. Applying for a DBS check is a purely UK system. Each country in the EU has separate rules about how and who gets police checked. It’s also fair to say that attitudes vary hugely between countries. In France, for example, it is considered highly inappropriate for schools and other officials to have any involvement in private life, especially in criminal records. Many countries just don’t have any systems fro running background checks on parents. Due to these concerns, many schools are abandoning the exchange model completely, and opting for youth hostel style accommodation instead.