Education

Surrey County Council says schools will make space for all Ukraine refugee children – even those at capacity

Surrey County Council has said even if schools in the county are at capacity they can accommodate the several hundred Ukrainian refugee children expected. A Horsell councillor informed the council at its AGM that he knew of kids fleeing war who once they reached safety in Surrey then faced issues when trying to get into a school.

Councillor Lance Spencer said it was confusing for parents that academy schools handled their own admissions, independent of the county council. In a question to the cabinet member for education last month, he told how after “enduring the traumas of the journey and the visa system” a girl who travelled from near Mariupol with her mum had been “completely floored” by the admissions process.

He explained: “The host family were told by Surrey County Council schools admissions team that the student would need to apply directly to the school and was told by the school that she would need to apply to Surrey County Council schools admissions team.” She was then told there was no room at the local school, an academy. She later managed to get a school place, but it is 40 minutes away from their host family in Horsell who live 200 yards from its secondary school.

Read more: Surrey firefighters drive 4×4 vehicles across Europe to donate them to Ukrainian colleagues

Cllr Spencer (Lib Dem, Goldsworth East and Horsell Village) said: “The fact that academy admissions are handled by the schools themselves, independent of the county council process for the schools it runs, makes for confusion and frustration for the host families and the pupils themselves. These children have already gone through unimaginable horrors and it is unacceptable that bureaucracy is now an obstacle to them settling into their new lives.”

Education cabinet member Councillor Denise Turner-Stewart responded: “Parents can apply for any school. We will always aim to support children to be educated in their nearest suitable school, where that is a parent’s preference. The council has a strong record of supporting all children, including refugee children, who have experienced trauma.”

A Surrey County Council spokesperson told the LDRS: “Without knowing the full details of this family’s application, it may be that the family were advised to apply directly to a school that receives in year applications directly, and were subsequently told by the school that no vacancy existed in the child’s year group. In that instance, the school may have suggested the family apply for an in year place at a school(s) that Surrey County Council receives applications for. This is normal practice.

“We appreciate that for families unfamiliar with the in year school application process this may appear confusing. For this reason, we welcome the Government’s proposal in the schools white paper to consult on the introduction of coordination of in year admissions, as this would eliminate this confusion from the process.”

The council is expecting more than 1,100 children to come to Surrey to escape Russian aggression through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, where people are offering up their spare rooms to those without relatives in the UK.

As of May 19, 377 school aged children had arrived in the county and of these, 160 (42 per cent) had been offered places in schools, with the rest either waiting for an offer or in the process of applying. The number in school is growing on a daily basis and by the beginning of last week (June 6) the county council said it had risen to 361 out of 519 arrivals (70 per cent).

More are arriving under a visa scheme because they have family in the UK. In the annual meeting Cllr Spencer asked: “With such a large volume of children arriving in such a short space of time, will there be sufficient qualified resource to support them properly in those schools?”

After the meeting a county council spokesperson said: “We have anticipated the challenge of ensuring there will be sufficient places available in Surrey for the Ukrainian children and young people arriving. As a result, we are utilising fair access processes weekly in order to identify placements for children from Ukraine and other eligible children requiring a school place.

“This means that where there are no vacancies in local schools, we can place children into school, above each school’s normal capacity where necessary. Headteachers have welcomed this and are working closely with us.”

Under this fair access protocol all schools, including academies which are not accountable to the local authority, are expected to admit vulnerable children above their published admissions number if the school is already full. However the process is not always used.

Asked why this it was not in the case of the Horsell school, resulting in a placement further away, the council said it “considers children individually including local circumstances and discusses options with the parents”, and “there is no blanket criteria that states when fair access is the appropriate option and when it isn’t”.

The council’s educational psychology service is providing support to young people affected by trauma, and its race, equality and minority achievement service advises and interprets for settings working with pupils for whom English is not their first language. Surrey libraries have a selection of Ukrainian language eBooks here.




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