Issue - meetings
Safeguarding Language School Students
Cllr Gant, Chair of the Scrutiny Committee presented the report. He said it’s quite widespread for under 18s attending language schools in Oxford to stay in homestays. There is no legal requirement for organisations to inform the local authority of these arrangements unless the child is staying longer than 28 days, most stay fewer than this.
Cllr Sinclair, Board Member for Community Safety gave an update on the work councillors have done to raise awareness of the issue. Cllr Coulter wrote to the chair of the District Council’s Network Assembly who had formed a task and finish group to review the issue. Cllr Coulter has asked for Oxford to be included in this review.
Cllr Sinclair has emailed both Oxford MPs, there’s been no response from Nicola Blackwood but Andrew Smith had asked for a Westminster debate on the issue. She suggested the City Executive Board could write to the MPs to add weight to the issue. Cllr Price agreed.
Cllr Sinclair said she had brought the issue up with the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board but will do so again.
Cllr Brown suggested we contact the Local Government Association to work with similar councils ie Cambridge, Brighton.
All responses to be circulated to City Executive Board members and the Scrutiny Committee.
The Scrutiny Committee commissioned officers to update the Committee on the safeguarding arrangements for foreign language students studying in Oxford.
Why is it on the agenda?
For the Scrutiny Committee to review and comment on the report and decide whether there is more work for a review group to undertake.
Who has been invited to comment?
· Councillor Sinclair, Board Member for Community Safety,
· Richard Adams, Community Safety & Resilience Manager
· Ben Smith, ASB Prevention Project Co-ordinator
- Appendix 1 - Safeguarding Policy for under 18 Foreign students, item 66 PDF 172 KB
- Appendix 2 - Annual Safeguarding Report, item 66 PDF 181 KB View as DOCX (66/3) 120 KB
Councillor Sinclair, Board Member for Community Safety presented the report. She explained that the law only requires language schools to notify local authorities if a student is staying with a homestay for longer than 28 days, but many language students only stay for one to three weeks. Thousands of language students visit Oxford every year and there’s a growing concern that students are being put at risk without authorities knowing about it. The Police Crime Commissioner is worried about the issue but the government feels the current arrangements are adequate.
The ASB Prevention Project Co-ordinator spoke on the work of the language school forum which has a strong partnership with the Police. The Forum works with language schools on monitoring their safeguarding responsibilities and promoting the welfare of the students while they are in Oxford. The forum has been running for 4 years and most of the larger language schools attend.
Cllr Hayes asked what a scrutiny review group could do to add value to the work already being done. Cllr Sinclair felt it would be useful for a review group to be set up and suggested it could look at other practices in other cities – ie Brighton. She didn’t want a review to add extra work to council officers.
Cllr Sinclair said she would ideally like to have a certification scheme which required language schools to meet certain criteria before they could operate under the Oxford name. However such a scheme would require officer time to implement and enforce.
The Committee decided not to form a review group as the responsibility lies with the County Council and they could see no areas where they could add value to the good work already being done.
The Committee felt there was scope for the Council (through CEB) to lobby for a strengthening of the legislation so that local authorities were informed when minors were staying temporarily in a private home for more than a few days.
Cllr Coulter agreed to approach the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) and the South East England Councils (SEEC) about forming a task and finish group to review the issue.
Cllr Hayes suggested asking Nicola Blackwood or Andrew Smith, the local MPs to convene a Westminster debate on the issue. They would have the resources to commission research into the best way forward. Cllr Sinclair agreed to contact the MPs and ask if they will invest effort in this.
The Committee recommended that:
1. Cllr Sinclair contact the MP(s) regarding convening a Westminster debate on the issue.
2. Cllr Coulter contact APSE and SEEC about setting up a task and finish group to review the issue.
3. CEB be asked to lobby for a strengthening of the legislation so that local authorities are informed by language schools when minors are staying temporarily in a private home for more than a few days.