As Children’s Commissioner, I have witnessed the lack of support for migrant children arriving in England. I have visited hotels and accommodation for children arriving in England unaccompanied and have been very concerned about the kind of care they receive when they first arrive in England. They are sometimes placed in hotels where they don’t receive any English language teaching or care.
In my study of children missing education, I found that unaccompanied children were much more likely to be missing school. As of March 2022, 21% of unaccompanied children were missing education, compared to 2% of all other looked after children.
Many of these children are in temporary accommodation, which can make it difficult to secure a place at and attend a good school. Over half (52%) of children who were unaccompanied and placed in temporary education were not in school.
I fear that the life chances for unaccompanied children will significantly worsen this year. In July, the Illegal Migration Act 2023 was passed. I have grave concerns around what this piece of legislation will mean for the rights of unaccompanied children. It will mean that children who arrive here fleeing war and those who have been trafficked will no longer be able to seek asylum, they will instead be removed at eighteen.
I will maintain a relentless focus on pushing for these changes to be reversed. However, even under this act, some protections for this vulnerable cohort remain. Local authorities and Virtual School Heads will still have a duty to provide for unaccompanied children, as children in care, up until adulthood. We must ensure that these children get the protection and education they deserve.
My investigation found that often schools are reluctant to admit unaccompanied children, as they do not feel able to tailor their provision to their needs. My office saw the value of small tutoring provision, as a means of building confidence and improving English language skills. However, all too often unaccompanied children get parked in unregistered provision, with no hope of integrating into a mainstream education.
While I recognise the immense value of small group tuition, this cannot replace access to a wider, enriching curriculum. All children should be able to access a high-quality education in mainstream schools, as a default. Unaccompanied children should be offered high-quality language tuition to attend mainstream schools.
I have seen too many instances of unaccompanied children being denied their right to a high-quality education. Often, these children arrive in our country and are not given the support they need to thrive. Children who arrive unaccompanied can receive advice and guidance from my office’s Help at Hand team.
As Children’s Commissioner, with a duty to protect and promote the rights of the most vulnerable children, I will work tirelessly to promote the rights of unaccompanied children. It is our responsibility to help every unaccompanied child to attend school.