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First ever study on educational outcomes of refugee and asylum-seeking children published

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@EduPolicyInst – Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are over three years behind non-migrant pupils and have higher school exclusion rates, new research shows.

New research from the Education Policy Institute (EPI), supported by Unbound Philanthropy, finds that asylum-seeking children who enter the UK separated from their parents are on average over three years behind non-migrant children at school by the time they take their GCSEs.

The new EPI working paper, which is the first ever study to examine the educational outcomes of the majority of asylum-seeking and refugee pupils in England, estimates their school attainment and considers absence and exclusion rates.

To date, very little has been known about the outcomes of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, resettled refugees or asylum support children who enter the English school system, as the government does not record the progress of these pupils.

To estimate the educational outcomes of this highly vulnerable pupil group, many of whom have experienced acute trauma, researchers at EPI developed a methodology that combines administrative datasets with national statistics and data obtained through freedom of information requests to the Home Office.  

The considerable gap in attainment between unaccompanied asylum-seeking pupils and non-migrant children of 37.4 months is estimated by researchers to be similar in size to the gap for pupils with special needs and disabilities who have the most severe needs.

The new report also reveals that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children experience higher rates of fixed period school exclusions (7.1%) than non-migrant children (5.2%), as well as slightly higher school absence rates of 6.8% compared to 6.6% for non-migrant children.

In contrast to unaccompanied children, resettled refugee children and asylum-seeking children living with family members in receipt of financial support from the government, are estimated to experience a much smaller school attainment gap on average, but one that is still substantial – trailing their non-migrant peers by around a year and a half (17.3 months) at GCSE.

Resettled refugee and asylum support recipient children are however estimated to have higher school attendance rates than non-migrant children, with 5% school absence rates compared to the 6.6% for non-migrant children. Such pupils also have a lower-than-average fixed period exclusion rate, at 4.4% compared to the non-migrant average of 5.2%.

The new EPI findings on refugee and asylum-seeking children are published as the Nationality and Borders Bill continues its passage through the House of Commons. The Bill, which is currently at the Report Stage, proposes significant changes to how the UK immigration system responds to and supports asylum-seekers and refugees.

Sector Response

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“This is an important piece of research that shines a spotlight on a group of pupils that are often overlooked in official government data.

“Given the life experiences and the trauma many of these young people will have faced in their formative years, it is perhaps not surprising that this has an impact on their educational outcomes. However, this is not a gap that anyone should be prepared to accept. Without doubt, these are some of the most vulnerable young people in our schools and we need a system that fully supports them.

“Schools know how to support vulnerable children, young people and their families, but for this particular group of pupils, they urgently need access to quality data, sufficient resource and a co-ordinated multiagency approach to make it happen.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“This report shines a much-needed light on the educational outcomes of a group of extremely vulnerable children.

“The huge gap it shows in their GCSE attainment compared to non-migrant children is not an easy problem to solve because they lack family support and stability, may not have a strong command of English, and may be suffering from psychological trauma.

“However, this report helps to provide greater understanding of the scale of the problem, and that is an important step forward in itself.

“It reinforces the need for sufficient government funding to enable schools, colleges, and local authority services to provide the most effective possible support for these young people, and for all vulnerable and disadvantaged children.”

Jo Hutchinson, Director of Social Mobility and Vulnerable Learners at the Education Policy Institute (EPI)

Jo Hutchinson, report author and a Director at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said:

“For the very first time, our research has estimated the educational outcomes of refugee and asylum-seeking children in England.

“While these children have very large school attainment gaps and higher exclusion rates, they are often still invisible to the system when it comes to education. 

“It is deeply concerning that the government does not follow the progress of these pupils, and that they receive very little support compared to other highly vulnerable groups. We need to see the government do far more to prioritise the needs of refugee and asylum-seeking pupils.”

Key findings from the report  

The school attainment of refugee and asylum-seeking children

  • Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) in England in 2016/17 were on average 37.4 months behind non-migrant children across all GCSE subjects. This attainment gap is similar in size to the gap experienced by children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) with the most severe needs (those in receipt of an Education, Health and Care Plan).
  • Children who fall into the group of resettled refugee or asylum-seeker in receipt of support were estimated to be 17.3 months behind non-migrant children across all GCSE subjects. Refugee and asylum-support children are estimated to be similarly educationally vulnerable to children in the care system with Child Protection Plans, or those who were persistently disadvantaged over the course of their school life. 

The school absence and exclusion rates of refugee and asylum-seeking children

  • School absence rates for UASC pupils in Year 11 in 2017 were on average 6.8%, compared with a 6.6% average for non-migrant children. In contrast, resettled refugee or asylum support children in Year 11 were estimated to be absent for 5% of their time in school, compared to 6.6% for non-migrant children.  
  • UASC experience higher rates (7.1%) of fixed period exclusions than the non-migrant population (5.2%), while resettled refugee or asylum support children are estimated to be less likely to experience a fixed period exclusion (4.4%).  
  • The picture is slightly different for permanent exclusions: UASC have extremely low (near zero) levels of permanent exclusion, and resettled refugee or asylum support children have an estimated permanent exclusion rate of 0.04%, which was lower than the 0.11% for non-migrant children.   

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