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Irish high schools clean up…

Melanie Butler reports on push to regulate high school sector

A new inspection scheme for Ireland’s educational guardianship providers was launched in April as part of the quality assurance framework set up by the Association of Guardianship Providers Ireland (AGPI). In recent years, the numbers of EU teens choosing to study for an academic year at an Irish high school has increased exponentially, but the sector remains largely unregulated.

High school programmes in English-speaking countries have become increasingly popular around the world, with students enrolling in schools in English-speaking destinations from the Philippines to Philadelphia. In Ireland, however, language schools have long been heavily involved in this market, selecting schools and host families, as well as English language support and out-of-school lessons.

Around a third of the members of Irish language schools’ association MEI offer these programmes, and half of those either advertise guardianship or offer services of a similar nature.

In fact, it was language schools that led the move to regulate the sector. Founded in 2015 by Declan Millar of High Schools International, Therese Dillon of MLI, Brian Burns of ISI and Padraig Hourigan of International House Dublin, AGPI worked with children’s charities to develop the inspection scheme.

In 2018, they created an inspection company, IGI (Independent Guardianship Inspection CLG). Now an independent body run by a board of educators and child safety experts, IGI is responsible for conducting inspections and adjudicating applications.

“Everywhere I looked I saw Spanish or German students enrolled in local 
schools, even in tiny towns or villages.”

Declan Millar, who has specialised in High school programmes for over twenty years, told the Gazette that the surge in numbers of EU students enrolling in Irish state schools had raised serious concerns. “Everywhere I looked I saw Spanish or German students enrolled in local schools, even in tiny towns or villages. And I began to worry who was looking after them, and did they really know enough about child safeguarding?”

Millar, who also runs programmes in the UK, foresees numbers in Ireland will only increase after Brexit, as EU citizens lose their right to attend British state schools for free, further increasing the potential problem. While non-EU children need visas and can only attend fee-paying schools, there is no record of children who arrive from Europe and enrol in a local school. “We don’t know how many there are here right now,” he told us.

AGPI’s solution is not just to inspect the guardianship associations, but to form links with the schools the children attend. Secondary schools, both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, can join as Associate Members and agree to work with AGPI member organisations where possible – and where not possible, those guardianship organisations they do work with are encouraged to apply for AGPI membership.

According to the association press release, “The hope is that this quality scheme will bring some discipline to this business in Ireland, and eventually, having reached a critical mass, to attract the support of government.”

Image courtesy of Library
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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