Valued teacher faces deportation

17th October 2008 at 01:00
School forced to sack Bangladeshi language specialist who has lived here since 16 - or pay Pounds 10,000 fine

Staff at a specialist language college are furious after the Home Office threatened to deport one of its most valued teachers because of a paperwork oversight.

Senior staff at Sarah Bonnell School in Stratford, east London, have voiced their support for Farhan Zakaria, a teacher of French and Bengali, who has been in Britain since he was a child.

The school has been forced to sack Mr Zakaria, despite his almost unique combination of languages, after being threatened with a Pounds 10,000 fine.

The 28-year-old attended a British university and trained for a PGCE in the UK, before starting a teaching career four years ago.

But an immigration tribunal ruled last month that the teacher, his brother and parents would have to return to Bangladesh, as they had been living in the country illegally for the past eight years.

When he moved to the country aged 16, he was exempt from normal visa requirements because his father had a job at the Bangladesh High Commission in London.

But when his father stopped working there, the family's exemption ended, without their knowledge. Now they are regarded as overstayers, and an application for leave to stay on humanitarian grounds has been rejected.

Sarah Bonnell School appointed Mr Zakaria while an application to remain in the country was still in the pipeline, and they were not aware of any irregularities.

Mike Richardson, assistant head and director of the language college, said: "Mr Zakaria and his family were given advice in good faith and didn't realise they were doing anything wrong.

"There has been no compassion from officials. Britain is his home, he has been here for 12 years and we were delighted to find a teacher with his combination of skills.

"If he is deported, he will be almost impossible to replace.

"None of this fits in with the specialist schools programme of raising standards, or with the obligation of all schools to promote community cohesion."

The school has since launched an online petition to support Mr Zakaria, and held a collection for his family.

Mr Zakaria, who is launching a High Court appeal against the decision, said: "I feel I have been treated worse than a criminal.

"But I am a home-grown teacher in a shortage subject and an asset to the country.

"They said I could get work in Bangladesh as an English teacher, but I tried to explain that I am trained to teach French.

"I have a marvellous job here, I have raised the results of the lowest French set and feel I have contributed to the community without ever taking any benefits."

But the Home Office's tribunal papers were unforgiving.

A judge wrote: "I accept that they have a private life in the UK, but their removal is entirely proportionate to the legitimate aim to be achieved, namely that of immigration control as balanced against the wider rights and freedoms of others and the general public interest."

This latest deportation case follows several high-profile incidents of immigrant pupils being taken from school during lessons.

In March 2007, The TES reported the case of Julio Quinones, a 10-year-old Bolivian boy, who was escorted out of a numeracy class, and driven to a deportation centre in a van with armed guards.

Concerned teachers, who were given just a 45 minute warning about the officials' arrival, were left to comfort other pupils.

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