Migrant Children A UK Education: Part One

We spend a lot of time in these blogs highlighting recent changes to UK immigration laws and addressing challenges which businesses face when they wish to hire non-EEA nationals.

However, we feel it is important not to forget that these individuals, who are transferred temporarily or permanently to the UK for work, are often accompanied by a family and acclimatising to a new country can be a difficult and stressful experience for all involved.

We’ve recently been investigating into how the UK education system operates in relation to non-EEA children, in response to some troubling experiences that have been brought to our attention, and wish to share our findings in this blog in the hope that our readers will not be caught out.

In the second part of this mini-series we are going to look at what attending a UK school is like for migrant children, and suggest ways in which they can integrate more easily.

Education for non-EEA children in the UK – an automatic right?

Education is compulsory in the United Kingdom for children aged between 5 and 16 (starting at age 4 in Northern Ireland).  This includes all children, whether they are UK nationals or not.

 Most children here attend state schools, although there are also private schools, which charge high fees per child.  The state schools are funded by the local education authority (LEA) for the area, and a full list of all LEAs in the UK can be found here.  These schools are open to all children, regardless of their nationality or religion and they are free to attend.  Dependent on which area of the UK you decide to make your home, your children may need to sit a test and meet academic entry requirements to be granted a place at a certain school, but most schools will not test children first.

After arrival in the UK, we advise our clients who have children to contact their LEA for information on schools, application procedures and information such as enrolment deadlines.  It is important for these children to get settled in at their new schools as quickly as possible, so that they can get used to unfamiliar surroundings, interact and develop social relationships with their peers, establish a routine and where necessary, develop their English language ability.

Access to schooling is, therefore, one of the most important rights for any foreign national seeking to build a life in the UK with their family, and more than this, it is a requirement for any child of school age.

One would assume, based on the above, that non-EEA children have the same right as UK children to attend a state school, provided both the child and parents hold current, valid UK visas in a category to which residency rights are attached? Apparently not…

LEAs – not one rule for all

We would not expect all Local Education Authorities to have the same procedures and processes with regard to how they allocate children to state schools, of course these will differ.  However, the belief that migrant children can attend state schools, provided they have current visas, is something we have previously taken for granted.

According to our research, each LEA has a different school admissions policy which varies according to the council, local population issues and so forth.  As a consequence of funding and higher population issues, some LEAs have now imposed a strict policy they will not admit migrant children to primary or secondary school if there are only 3 months or less remaining on the current visa of the parent or child.

Not a problem, you may think.  Non-EEA nationals should just prepare to extend their visas in advance and ensure that they aren’t caught out by this rule.

But what about the situation where a migrant parent is joined by their children and spouse, has already spent nearly 5 years in the UK in an eligible category and wishes to apply for settlement, but cannot do so in advance because one may only apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) a maximum of 28 days before the expiry of the current visa?

This creates an incredibly difficult situation, whereby the LEA will refuse to admit the children who have just arrived in the UK into a state school because the main applicant has only a few months left on his or her visa. 

The only options in this case would be for the sponsoring parent to either extend their current visa and delay the ILR application, pay extremely high fees to send the children to private school, or accept that the children will have to miss out on a few months education.  Things are made even more problematic because home school packs will also not be released to migrant children whose parents’ visas are nearing expiry. 

The LEA will only begin to process a child’s school place or send out a home school pack when they have received confirmation that the sponsoring parent has submitted an ILR or extension application.

So what can be done about such distressing situations?

Our advice

Now, you may think that having children at home for a couple of months would not be too disastrous, especially if they are young and can catch up quickly.

But what if the children are studying for GCSEs or A Levels – their progress will undoubtedly be hindered by having to self-study at home during this period.

We must also not forget that when it comes to migrant children, enrolling them at school is a vital part of helping them to acclimatise and settle in to a new life.  If their parents are caught in the situation we have described, and cannot afford private school fees, this can cause great stress and upset to whole family and greatly delay the children’s integration.

There is so little flexibility in these situations, we urge readers to take precautions and plan ahead to avoid ending up in a similar position. 

  • RESEARCH – when you decide to bring your children to the UK, start researching as soon as possible.  If you’re already living in the UK, contact the local LEA in the area where you live, find out their policies regarding the admission of migrant children to state schools and establish whether they are likely to reject applications from your children if your visa is near expiry.  Ask if there is any flexibility exercised by your particular LEA.  If you can afford to consider this option, look into the local private schools and ask for details of their admissions policies.
  • PLAN – Check your own visa expiry date and consider whether you may need to extend it so your children will be able to enrol at the start of the school year.  Apply for entry clearance on behalf of your children in good time before school starts and ensure that you follow all the correct application procedures.  Ask for legal advice if you’re unsure of anything. 
  • ACTION – Make sure that you leave enough time for whatever course of action you decide to take.  Visa extensions are a lengthy process if submitted via post and entry clearance applications for your children can take weeks to approve depending on the country in which they submit.  Get things moving as soon as possible so you don’t end up with no options.
  • ADAPT – If your UK visa is nearing expiry and you don’t want to extend it because you wish to apply for ILR, think carefully about the best course of action to take.  You could consider bringing your children over to the UK when you have started the ILR application process, so that they can go straight into school.  Or, if they are already in the UK and due to start a new academic year, think about extending your current visa category if they are at a crucial stage in their education.  Again, your immigration advisor will be able to talk through the various visa options which are available and can help you decide what to do.

We hope this blog has been useful in highlighting a difficult set of circumstances which is beginning to crop up for migrant parents and has provided some guidance on how to prevent such a situation arising.

Please leave your comments below or contact us for any queries you have relating to this blog.

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