Refugee Support Network (RSN) last week released groundbreaking research on refugee children’s access to education across England, Scotland and Wales.
The report examines refugee and asylum seeking children’s access to and experiences of education at the primary, secondary and further education levels. It draws upon interviews with refugee children and parents and interviews with relevant experts. The report also uses data compiled through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to all Local Authorities in England, Scotland and Wales.
RSN highlights the barriers child refugees and asylum-seekers in the UK face in accessing, remaining and thriving in education, and proposes recommendations for national and local decision-makers and service-providers.
The report finds that children can face long delays accessing education after arriving in the UK.
It states: “At the systemic level, refugee and asylum seeking children’s entry to education is delayed by long waiting lists (particularly for ESOL /English for Speakers of Other Languages/ places in Scotland); complex online applications processes that family members are unable to navigate; and in year arrivals.”
The report continues: “At the individual institution level, refugee and asylum seeking children’s entry to education is delayed primarily by three key factors. First, a lack of readily available places for children with SEN. Second, a reluctance of schools to admit students at the upper-secondary level (due to fear of negatively influencing results profiles). Third, the need, in England, to undertake a lengthy process of applying for the Secretary of State for Education to direct an academy to take a child (in comparison to a Local Authority being able to direct a school themselves).”
RSN found that not one region of the UK has met the 20 school-day target for accessing education for all of the Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) in their care.
The report’s author, Catherine Gladwell, told the Guardian that there were challenges across Great Britain, but she found that what was happening in the UK was encouraging when seen in a global context.
Gladwell said: “The most remarkable thing we saw was the enormous enthusiasm for education among these children. If you give these children education you are giving them a key to unlock a more positive and hopeful future.
“But we found challenges in every region, both at the point of access and once they are in schools. There’s an awful lot of good practice out there – if that good practice can be promoted and replicated there’s real reason to be optimistic.”
Commenting on the report, UNICEF UK said RSN’s research showed that the right to education, although enshrined in law and policy, is still not implemented consistently across the UK and targets are not being fully met.
UNICEF UK added, however, that the overall standards are high and in the global context, the UK is demonstrating good practice.
UNICEF UK said: “Despite the gaps in provision that need addressing, we are very encouraged to see from the research that in each local authority area, education is prioritised from the outset and has been integrated into pathway planning. The majority of the stakeholders interviewed stated that schools were often very positive about how the presence of refugee and asylum-seeking children had enriched the life of the school community and the learning environment.”