Ministers accused of neglect as refugee pupils without parents lag three years behind

Ministers accused of neglect as refugee pupils without parents lag three years behind
GCSE attainment gap similar to children with special educational needs, says study – warning youngsters ‘invisible to the system’

Refugee children who arrive in the UK without their parents lag three years behind their peers at school, says new research accusing the government of neglect.

The attainment gap – at GCSE level – is similar to that of children with special educational needs and with the most severe disabilities, an education think-tank is warning.

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are also more likely to miss lessons or to be excluded from school than students who are not migrants, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has found.

In contrast, asylum-seeking children living with family members, and resettled refugee children, are less likely to be excluded – and their attainment gap is less than half as big.

Jo Hutchinson, the report’s author, called on ministers to beef up help for children who are too often “invisible to the system when it comes to education”.

“It is deeply concerning that the government does not follow the progress of these pupils and that they receive very little support compared to other highly vulnerable groups,” she said.

“We need to see the government do far more to prioritise the needs of refugee and asylum-seeking pupils.”

The study is believed to be the first to examine the educational outcomes of the majority of asylum-seeking and refugee pupils in England.

It comes as the Nationality and Borders Bill returns to the Commons – introducing another crackdown on asylum-seekers – and amid clashes with France on how to stop refugee boats.

EPI researchers drew together information from national statistics data obtained through freedom of information requests to the Home Office.

They established that:

* Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were, in 2016-17, on average 37.4 months behind non-migrant children across all GCSE subjects.

* The attainment gap for refugee children who have been resettled, or are receiving family support, is still large but much smaller – at 17.3 months.

* Absence rates for Year 11 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were 6.8 per cent – compared with 6.6 per cent for non-migrant children and only 5 per cent for supported and resettled pupils.

* Exclusions (7.1 per cent) were also higher than for non-migrant children (5.2 per cent) than supported and resettled pupils (4.4 per cent).

* However, there are “near zero” permanent exclusions of unaccompanied asylum-seeking pupils, which are lower than the 0.11 per cent for non-migrant children.

In response, the Department for Education pointed to the “significant investment to support pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds” – rather than addressing refugee children separated from their parents.

“Councils receive additional funding to help meet the educational needs of children in care, including unaccompanied minors, who also benefit from the support of a virtual school head,” a spokesperson said.

The Borders Bill has sparked an outcry because it will tear up refugee law, denying asylum rights to people arriving via unauthorised routes – who will be criminalised and face removal.

Border Force officials whose actions could result in deaths at sea will be granted immunity, while people who help asylum seekers enter the UK, even for altruistic reasons, could be prosecuted.