Pupils deported during courses

13th February 2004 at 00:00
Up to three asylum-seeker pupils are being deported during their exam courses each year at some schools, according to new research. Pupils' education was being disrupted and teachers' time wasted by the systems for deporting and relocating young asylum-seekers, said the study.

Clive Soley, Labour MP for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush, commissioned the research after receiving complaints from headteachers in his constituency about the treatment of asylum-seeker pupils.

"They were being removed from the country before they had completed their courses of study, in some cases in the middle of sitting their final exams," he said. "It is a tragic waste of their education."

Researcher Eleanor Scoones said it was difficult to find out precisely how many pupils who were deported or moved during the year. A teacher at Acton high school, in west London, said the students would sometimes just disappear without telling staff what had happened.

From the figures available, Ms Scoones estimated that secondary schools with larger-than-average numbers of asylum-seekers would see around two or three deported each year in the middle of exam courses. All of these pupils were aged 16 to 19.

However, she found that the number of students dispersed by the National Asylum Support Service as a greater problem for schools. Unaccompanied children and teenagers who arrive in England are not usually affected by immigration and asylum legislation until they turn 18. But then they can be deported or dispersed to new homes, usually in northern towns even if they are in the middle of their A2 or GNVQ exams.

Ms Scoones said that more research was needed as the problem could affect up to 1,000 students in sixth forms and colleges.

"This is a common occurrence and can be almost as disruptive to their education as deportation," Ms Scoones said. "The removal of asylum-seeker pupils in the middle of the school year is traumatic, not just for the pupils but for their fellow students and teachers."

Copies of the report have been sent to Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, and David Blunkett, the Home Secretary.

Mr Soley said he was keen that young people on exam courses should be allowed to complete qualifications before being dispersed, although he stressed that he did not want to provide a route where illegitimate asylum-seekers could remain in the UK on educational grounds.

Concerns about the education of young asylum-seekers were shared by Save the Children, which launched a pack this term for schools. Radhika Howarth, a researcher for the charity, said recent legal changes had been expected to give greater continuity for teenage asylum-seekers' education but it was not yet clear if they had helped.

A 17-year-old who contacted the charity said that being dispersed would be like starting a third life. "Starting a life for a second time was so difficult we cannot imagine doing it again," she said.

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