Exchange students: Ceredigion ban on staying with families

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Media captionThe policy has been in place since last February, but it had not been discussed by the council's cabinet

A ban on letting children on school exchange trips stay with host families abroad because of fears about their safety has been backed by councillors in Ceredigion.

The policy, first adopted last year, also stops foreign students staying with families when visiting Ceredigion.

The authority's cabinet voted unanimously to approve the policy.

Blaenau Gwent, Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf councils operate similar policies.

BBC Wales has asked Ceredigion council why it has taken so long for the policy to be officially approved, but the authority is yet to reply.

Selwyn Waters, chairman of the Lampeter Twinning Association, said Ceredigion's rules stopped the organisation taking school children to Saint-Germain-sur-Moine in France which is twinned with the town.

"We appreciated the idea because of the safety of the children, I was conscious of that," he told BBC Radio Wales.

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Media captionSelwyn Waters, chairman of the Lampeter Twinning Association

"But I feel it is very prohibitive to these children.

"Cultural exchange is very much a part of twinning and when these children go and stay in the home of French families, they spend most of the time with them.

"They get to know about the life and the language and the culture of these people and it is very beneficial."

A report went before the cabinet on Tuesday by Darryl Evans, Ceredigion's head of educational wellbeing, recommending approval.

"This decision was based on safeguarding children and ensuring their safety," said Mr Evans about the school trip policy.

"It was felt that despite undertaking CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks or similar and utilising family agreements there was still a largely unknown element to such arrangements.

"It was agreed that exchange visits should still be undertaken because of the great benefits to the child but that this element of the trip should no longer take place."

Mr Evans said it was also agreed that children should still spend time with families as part of their visit but this should be subject to the following rules:

  • Children to visit families in pairs;
  • Children to carry an emergency contact number at all times;
  • An agreed time when the children would return to their overnight accommodation.

"Some visits had already been arranged when this decision was made and it was agreed that to avoid complication these visits should still go ahead," Mr Evans added.

'Code of practice '

"However, any new visits would have to use other forms of accommodation such as hotels, hostels etc.

"All new exchange visits that have been organised over the past 12 months have now been organised to make the use of alternative forms of accommodation and no visits have been cancelled or failed to take place."

Rhondda Cynon Taf, Neath Port Talbot and Blaenau Gwent councils told BBC Wales they operated similar school exchange visit policies.

Others councils such as Conwy, Flintshire and Monmouthshire said they followed the Welsh government's educational visits guidance.

It says careful matching of exchange partners is central to successful visits and host families should be confirmed as suitable by the host school.

A number of factors, such as a code of conduct and sleeping arrangements, should be considered, the guidance suggests.

In Carmarthenshire, the council said the responsibility for finding suitable and safe accommodation for children is down to the schools, but when placing children with a family schools have to do a series of checks.

Cardiff council said it did not prevent children and young people from staying with host families during visits.

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