Many schools organise course primarily for adults but also accepts students as young as 16. What special challenges does this type of course brings to safeguarding?

Two categories of student mixing on one course

Courses placing teenagers under 18 sharing a course with young adults are very popular and often welcome a significant percentage of younger students, particularly during the busy summer month.

Often there is not much difference in the two categories of student apart from their date of birth, – and a few UK laws! One of the most important laws is the school’s ‘duty of care’ responsibility to safeguard those under the age of 18. 

The ‘duty of care’ law doesn’t mean that the school stops looking after students as soon as they have their 18th birthday. All students need to be helped and supported whatever their age; that is obviously the right thing to do and good customer care. For under 18s, however, the school must be able to show that they have provided a safe environment and ‘protected the under 18s from that which is not in their best interests’.

School duty of care

UK laws, student attitudes and the levels and types of safeguarding

The levels of risk reduce for 16 and 17 year olds due to their age, increasing maturity and life-experience; they are less vulnerable than 10 or 12 year olds. 

As the risks reduce, so do the levels of safeguarding required in many areas, for example

  • travelling to and from school
  • time and activities allowed away from adult supervision
  • curfew times will often be later
  • students administering medication themselves
  • laundry and meals

However in other areas a school must be mindful of increased risks to the 16 and 17 year old students because they are close to being an adult, for example around alcohol and smoking and online activity.

Laws and cultural norms around smoking and alcohol are different around the world. When international students arrive in UK they need to follow UK laws. This frustrates some international young adults who get upset that things they do at home, they are not legally allowed to do in UK.

The students can also get frustrated because they believe at ages 16 and 17 that they are already an adult (in some countries, they may legally be an adult) and able to make decisions themselves about smoking, alcohol and what they do online. 

This attitude can actually make 16 and 17 year old students more vulnerable; they are convinced that they are grown up – but in reality many are not because they lack the experience to recognise potentially dangerous situations and/or people. That is why the school must continue to safeguard these students, so close to adulthood but not yet there.

Here are some examples that have already happened to 16 and 17 year old students at several ELT organisations.

UK have laws about sending/posting certain images online, for example 16 and 17 year olds may send photos of themselves semi-naked (or sometimes completely naked) to boyfriends or girlfriends without realising. 

(a) that it is illegal in UK to send or post such images online (a girl naked from the waist up or showing genitalia; a boy showing genitalia) if the person in the photo is under 18. That applies even if the person in the photo and the person receiving the photo both consent.

(b) that it is dangerous to post or send this type of picture because images online are there forever, and posting them immediately makes somebody more vulnerable to their image being misused in the future, for example as an act of revenge after the end of a relationship. 

Students being misled by fake emails or websites

Financial fraud is a huge online problem. Students may respond to fake emails by sending personal bank or credit card details and find their money disappears. Or they purchase things online from fake websites which take the student’s money but never provide the goods. Typically, 16 and 17 year old students believe they are good at using online services and never imagine they could be duped by fake information.

Student using internet

What can schools do?

There is a lot schools can do to help safeguard their 16 and 17 year old students

  • provide accurate information about UK laws, both in writing (handbooks) and verbally
  • explain the information; help the students understand why the laws exist. This could happen at induction and/or regular meetings just for students aged 16 and 17
  • reinforce the information to help keep it uppermost in the students minds via posters and meetings
  • do the same for any risks students may face; physical risks in the local area, and online risks
  • set school rules, i.e. limits and boundaries on things the 16 and 17 year old students can do, including online behaviour
  • have sanctions ready if those boundaries are crossed, and praise and recognition for students who stick within the required limits
  • get students (and their parents) to sign that they agree to follow the schools’ rules. To do this, students and parents must know about the rules before the course starts!
  • ensure staff know and enforce the rules; if staff do not react when students break the rules, the message to the students is that the rules don’t matter
  • ensure the other students on the course, the adults aged 18 and above, also know about (i) UK laws (e.g. buying alcohol for under 18s) so that they don’t inadvertently break the law, and (ii) know about the school rules for the 16 and 17 year olds so they help the younger students stay within limits (e.g. curfew times) and, of course, (iii) know who the under 18 students are!
  • safeguarding staff remain alert to 16 and 17 year old students and what they tell you; do any rules need updating to adapt to changing local or online circumstances?

Find out about what duty of care adults have when working with students in the UK and what to do if a safeguarding situation should arise with Gallery Teachers Safeguarding Basic Awareness Course.