THE leader of Glasgow's education programme for asylum-seekers has condemned the new legislation on immigration passed by the Commons last week, which will be applied in Scotland.
Maria Walker, who co-ordinates the programme in the city, hit out at the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act which will set up special centres for asylum-seeking families on both sides of the border, forcing children to be educated there rather than in local authority schools.
Ms Walker told the Scottish Support for Learning Association conference in Aberfoyle last week that institutionalised provision represented a "backward step".
David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, was forced to make concessions to win over critics by insisting that children of asylum-seekers would spend only a maximum of six months in classes at accommodation centres before being transferred to mainstream schools.
But Ms Walker said this was an inadequate response. "All the research on English language learning tells us that the best learning comes from being continually exposed to it, by other children as well as by teachers. The only English the children will hear in these centres is from one teacher."
The six-month limit was a meaningless gesture, Ms Walker said, since the first six months in learning another language were crucial. "Our experience in Glasgow is that, for many of these children and for others as well, school is an asylum."
A survey of 738 primary and secondary youngsters from asylum-seeking families by the city's education department and Save the Children found that school rated as among the best aspects of their lives (TESS, August 30).
"Success at school offers them one avenue to realise their full potential," the report stated.
Hassan Hassan, head of English as an additional language at St Roch's Secondary in Glasgow, believes the grit of the incomers rubs off. "They are highly motivated and appreciative of the opportunity they have to achieve what they want to achieve academically.
"When they settle down in the school, they have good interpersonal skills and we find it extremely important to get them in touch with the mainstream pupils."
No decision has been taken on whether centres will be opened in Scotland, although Turnhouse beside Edinburgh airport has been mentioned as a possible site. Ms Walker claimed that the responsibility for education in these centres would lie not with the Scottish Parliament but with the Home Office in London.
The Executive has confirmed that immigration and related matters are reserved legislative areas for Westminster. A spokesman said: "The Home Office is required to consult Scottish ministers on accommodation centres proposed for Scotland. They would also consult on education provision in such centres."
The spokesman added: "To date asylum-seekers in Scotland have been taught in local authority schools, an approach which has been largely successful."
The Government's moves have attracted criticism from the Scottish Support for Learning Association. Bill Sadler, its president, told The TES Scotland: "Inclusion in Scottish schools is a policy that is moving in the right direction and we are getting better at it. So it would be a shame if we did anything which would put that at risk.
"We should encourage the ethos of 'if you're here, you're part of us'. Our association would oppose Mr Blunkett's measures which we regard as anti-inclusive."