County defends itself over child asylum-seekers

18th February 2000 at 00:00
MORE than 700 children of asylum-seekers living in Kent are not in school, new figures reveal.

But council officials insist they are not to blame. They say they do not know where the children are, but that there are places for them once they are found.

Pam Gibson, county pupil services officer, said they were not told when families were transferring to Kent, making it virtually impossible to keep tabs on the children.

About half of Kent's asylum-seeking families were sent there either by other local authorities or the Benefits Agency.

"If we can find them we will place them in schools," she said.

According to Kent's database there are 334 children of asylum-seekers in county schools and 724 without a place - many from families with no tradition of educating their young people.

Most families live in Dover or Thanet where centres aimed at meeting the needs of primary-aged children have either opened or are planned.

Two centres ran at Astor secondary and Channel high school in Folkestone, last June and July, to give Year 6 pupils without a school place intensive language support and introduce them t secondary education.

Mrs Gibson said some schools were either formally or informally excluding asylum-seekers, adding to pressures on support and placement teams. She was unable to give a breakdown of where the families were from or how much they were costing Kent.

However, the number of children of asylum-seekers has more than doubled the caseload of Kent's traveller education support service and increased by 50 per cent work for its language and achievement service.

The Government's estimate of what should be spent for placement, transport and teaching costs of asylum-seekers and their families lags behind the actual costs, the council says.

Michael Pitt, Kent's chief executive, has written to London boroughs and neighbouring authorities asking for the county council to be kept informed when asylum-seekers are sent to Kent.

Afghan asylum-seekers re-leased from the hijacked plane at Stansted this week should soon find out if they will be allowed to stay in Britain. The 73 asylum-seekers, including 28 children, have been accommodated at a Home Office centre at Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire.

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