GOVERNMENT plans to move refugees to different parts of the country could cause major problems in schools with no experience of teaching children from ethnic minorities, according to the Refugee Council.
The council is concerned that the plans to force asylum-seekers to disperse are shortsighted and underfunded.
An estimated 69,000 school-age refugees live in Britain. Three-quarters are in Greater London and the rest have been dotted around the country through a voluntary dispersal scheme.
But greater numbers are now being sent to northern education authorities under the Government's "no-choice" programme which came into effect at the beginning of this month.
Attempts to place asylum-
seekers in "cluster areas" where there is an infrastructure to support refugees are already in trouble. Six hundred children recently sent to Glasgow were allocated to 38 schools in largely all-white parts of the city.
Jill Rutter, the Refugee Council's education co-ordinator, said:
"Asylum-seeking children have full rights to education in the UK. Funding follows them in the same way that it follows other children.
"But pupil numbers are calculated on an annual census (on January 20) and if children are not on the school roll on that day, the school has to wait until the following year."
Schools face a similar wait for the Ethnic Minority and Travellers Achievement Grant, despite the acute language needs of the majority of refugee children.
A pound;1 million fund to help local authorities and schools affected by the dispersal scheme has just been announced by the Government. But Ms Rutter claims that with extra language teaching costing pound;100 per child per week, the money is simply not enough.
Schools are also concerned at the impact of refugee children on league tables.
On Midlands school, coping with arrivals every day, has told its education authority that it would not take any more Year 6 pupils because of the detrimental effect on test results. Kosovan pupils who arrived last May on the humanitarian evacuation programme were not counted in league tables, but this period of grace has not been extended.
Currently it is estimated that there are 2,500 asylum-seeking children not in school.
Miss Rutter said: "Research shows that with the right support refugee children can outperform their white counterparts within a couple of years. We need a contingency fund to help schools cope."
A Department for Education and Employment spokesman said: "We accept that some schools work in difficult circumstances but it would be wrong to suggest by excluding these children from the tables that they are not capable of achieveing good results."
For practical advice on teaching children whose first language is not English, visit www.tes.co.uk
CASE STUDY: Moorside community primary school, Newcastle
IT has taken headteacher June Foster months to convince Serb-Croat parents to allow their children out of their sight.
But now the unsurprisingly low 54 per cent attendance rate of the 27 refugees at her school will be included in league table figures. "We are better placed than many schools, but so many of the problems these children face are not taken into account. There is no extra money for special needs, despite the trauma some of these children have faced in their lives," said Mrs Foster.
Performance tables and benchmark data, she said, go out of the window when a school is dealing with a 65 per cent mobility rate. "The Government talks about target-setting but I cannot even tell you who will be in Year 6, let alone what the targets will be."