Home Office Compliance for Independent Schools – Three Simple Steps You Can Take Now
With an increasing number of students requiring visas to study in the UK following Brexit, a Child Student Sponsor Licence has become a commercial necessity for many independent schools.
A central tenet of the Home Office’s guidance on Child Student Sponsor Licences is that the grant of a Licence to an independent school is “a privilege not a right”. In other words, with the benefit of a Licence, comes the responsibility of upholding the Home Office’s compliance regime. This can be intimidating for the Authorising Officer and Level 1 User(s) on the licence, for whom sponsor licence compliance is often another addition to an already busy workload, particularly given that the Home Office’s published guidance on the issue spans several documents and amounts to hundreds of pages. This article suggests three simple steps you can take now, in order to improve compliance.
1. Implement a clear system for flagging and reporting relevant changes to student circumstances;
An important part of a Sponsor’s duties is to report any relevant changes to student circumstances via the Sponsor Management System (‘SMS’). The SMS is a (rather clunky) online portal through which the Licence is managed. Level 1 users each have their own username and password to access the SMS. Once logged in they can report any relevant changes in circumstances. All Level 1 users should therefore be aware of the changes in student circumstances which need to be reported, and the time frame for reporting each change. Examples include:
- If a sponsored Child Student does not enrol within the enrolment period on their Certificate of Acceptance of Studies (‘CAS’) this must be reported within 10 working days of the enrolment period ending.
- If there is a significant change in a Child Student’s circumstances e.g. a change in the location where they are studying, this must be reported within 10 working days of the Sponsor becoming aware.
- If a Child Student misses 10 consecutive “contact points” then this must be reported within 10 working days of the last missed contact point. Please note, the Sponsor can define a contact point. Daily class registration is often used to meet this definition.
In order to ensure that changes are reported in time, there needs to be a clear line of communication between admissions, pastoral and academic staff, who have access to the relevant information, and the Level 1 user, who will be making the relevant report. A simple solution is a short weekly meeting between all staff members who have close contact with sponsored Child Students, and the Level 1 User(s). The full list of sponsored pupils is reviewed at this meeting, and any relevant changes in circumstances are flagged for reporting.
2. Create an automated system of reminders for key dates;
The key dates for Licence holders fall into two main categories:
- Key dates relating to the management of the licence – for example, the date on which the annual CAS allocation expires or the date by which the School is required to submit its Basic Compliance Assessment (‘BCA’).
- Key dates relating to the management of sponsored and non-sponsored students – for example, the dates on which the visas of all sponsored and non-sponsored students expire.
Failure to miss one of these key dates can have disastrous consequences; for example, if a School fails to submit a BCA on time, the Home Office may take compliance action. Similarly, allowing a student to study after their visa has expired, if a new visa conferring a right to study has not been obtained, is a breach of a Sponsor’s compliance duties.
We suggest that all these dates are entered into a shared online calendar, accessible to the Authorising Officer and all Level 1 Users, with frequent reminders in the run up to any important date (for example a month, a week and a day before the relevant date). This system prevents human error, and minimises the risk of a critical date being missed.
3. Compile a spreadsheet of all pupils’ ‘right to study’ statuses in the UK
Child Student Sponsors are required to check that every pupil has a ‘right to study’ in the UK, either by virtue of being a British or Irish citizen or by holding an immigration status which permits study in the UK. These checks result in a large amount of information to collate and, importantly, it is information that the Home Office often requests if inspecting a School. We therefore recommend compiling a comprehensive spreadsheet with the names of each pupil, the basis on which they are permitted to study in the UK, and the date their documents were checked. Implementing this system can save a good deal of panic in the event this information is requested by the Home Office.
These three examples demonstrate that compliance with the Home Office’s Sponsor Licence regime is as much about practical, implementable solutions as it is about legal principles.