Many of us have fond memories of our secondary school language exchange. It was a rite of passage for many British teenagers, who said Auf Wiedersehen, Adios or Au Revoir to their parents and headed off to spend a week with a host family in Germany, Spain or France before then hosting a foreign teen in their own home. But according to a recent report by the British Council, the school language exchange is becoming a thing of the past, and the decline is due to an increase in red tape.


Disclosure Checks for Parents

Department of Education guidelines state that British families hosting students from overseas should have DBS checks. And that doesn’t just apply to the parents of the child concerned, but to everyone over the age of 18 living at the address. The very fact that Councils recommend that parents have DBS checks makes people think that hosting a foreign exchange student, or sending your own child overseas, is a risk. Costs of DBS checks can also greatly increase the cost of the exchange trip for the students. Schools are also reluctant to ask about the potential criminal records of parents of children in their school and parents may be wary of disclosing past crimes to school, risking their children being excluded from any trip.

The other side of the coin is the trip overseas, and which checks can be carried out on host families in other countries. Our European neighbours all have a different approach. For example, German schools are under no legal obligation to ask parents to have a DBS check. French schools are banned from even asking about criminal convictions of parents as the general feeling is that schools should never pass judgement on their students’ families. Only in Spain can schools ask parents to provide a certificate showing that they have not been convicted of crimes of a sexual nature.


Sharp Decline in Trips

This minefield around DBS checks and not being able to get an overseas equivalent has led to a huge slump in trips. Only around 25% of state schools after still running foreign exchanges. In 2014, 30% of schools ran exchange trips. Schools are still organising foreign trips and experiences for their pupils, but these generally involve staying in youth hostel accommodation rather than in a family home. As these trips are supervised by fully DBS checked UK teachers or other specialist employees, the issue of DBS checks on overseas staff is not an issue.

Coincidentally, the number of students who are sitting GCSE and A-Level exams in foreign languages has also fallen sharply. In recent years, students sitting exams in German and French has fallen by 30%, with a slower decline in Spanish. Ministers are trying to reverse the slump in language exam passes by investing money into a fund to help underprivileged children with foreign trips. But the red tape seems to indicate that foreign exchange trips are off the menu for the foreseeable future.