Heads disgusted at refugee segregation

David Blunkett says mainstream schools cannot cope with asylum-seekers. But teachers of refugee pupils, who see them thriving, beg to differ, reports Amanda Kelly

ETHIOPIAN student Tinbit Ermias had particular cause to celebrate her test results last summer.

When the 15-year-old fled to England with her family two years ago to escape political persecution, she spoke barely a word of English.

Now she does her homework in a tiny north London hostel room she shares with her parents and brother while their asylum claim is processed. Despite the cramped conditions she outperformed many classmates at key stage 3 and hopes to do even better at GCSE.

Tinbit is at Hampstead school, whose head Andy Knowles, is one of the hundreds that oppose plans by Home Secretary David Blunkett to refuse children like her access to mainstream education.

His proposal would see such children educated in "accommodation" centres to prevent schools being, as he put it, "swamped" by refugees and drained of resources.

Mr Knowles said: "This is the most disgusting bit of vote-catching I've come across.

"The Government has not consulted schools at all about this. I'm not swamped by refugee children. I'm swamped by government initiatives and bureaucracy.

"Segregating children in this way will only fuel racism and will deprive English children of the chance to mix with youngsters from different backgrounds."

And this week the head of the school that hosted a major Government announcement about London schools used the occasion pointedly to highlight the contribution of asylum-seeker children.

As Education Secretary Estelle Morris looked on, Huw Salisbury, head of South Camden community school, told how a quarter of his pupils were refugees from 36 countries and they spoke 52 different languages.

He said such children should be taught in the mainstream schools from their arrival in this country.

The Home Office insists the youngsters will receive an equivalent education inside the centres, monitored by inspectors.

But Joan Moon, who teaches English to refugee children in Newcastle and has visited several detention centres, said: "They cannot possibly offer the choice of subjects and activities available at a mainstream school and will mean the children are locked up in miserable surroundings for 24 hours a day.

"It will also be much harder for them to learn our language if they are not with English-speaking pupils."

More than 30 Labour MPs, have voiced their opposition to the proposal, as well as charities including Save the Children and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children..

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you