This report follows a recommendation from the Scrutiny and Overview Committee that the Sub-Committee be provided information on the support available for children arriving in the borough on asylum schemes, particularly for those who are not in full-time education; information on access to education; and information to demonstrate that schools are being properly funded for taking in Ukrainian refugees as per national government support schemes.
The Sub-Committee considered a paper set out on pages 87 to 92 of the agenda, which provided information on the support available for children arriving in the borough on asylum schemes; information on access to education; and information to demonstrate that schools were being properly funded for taking in Ukrainian refugees as per national government support schemes. The Early Help Service Manager introduced and summarised the report.
Members asked how concerns that children could be behind, due to missing years of schooling, could be addressed and noted that this could present a barrier to integration,. The Director of Education explained that children who came to the country at a young age picked up English much more quickly than older children did. The Sub-Committee heard that the interim provision had been provided to develop English-speaking skills to aid in the transition to mainstream schools, and it was being looked at whether this would be reintroduced. The Sub-Committee heard that, whilst this was challenging, schools in Croydon were very open and welcoming, and it was more likely that children’s experiences and trauma would create barriers; because of this it was important that support for children’s mental health and wellbeing was in place. Members heard that it was a school’s decision whether to support an application for a child to enter education at a year below their curriculum age, and this could be very challenging for older children, with a number of factors needing to be considered. The Director of Education explained that it was most important to support children in reaching their full potential in light of whatever decision was made.
The Sub-Committee asked how confident the Council was that all the available funding was being received to support Asylum Seeking and Refugee Children. The Director of Education confirmed that this was the case, and work was being done to pass this funding on to schools directly. Members heard from Co-optee Josephine Copeland that integration had been successful at their school, but it was important that ‘English as a Second Language’ was a focus to ensure that lessons accounted for all of the children. Members heard that funding could be an issue as it did stretch resources with the example given of increased mental health needs. The Director of Education explained that the per-pupil funding was lagged, and that children arriving and leaving between census days could lead to a situation where funding was not received for these children. Members heard that this could create challenges but that support was provided wherever possible, however, school funding was complicated and sometimes did not account for pupil movement. The Director of Education stated that the Department for Education notified Local Authorities of available funding streams. The Early Help Service Manager explained that there had been a small grants funding process in late 2022 for voluntary sector organisations to provide additional services to, and activities for, the asylum-seeking community to provide opportunities outside of their accommodation.
Members asked about families who had their accommodation moved, and whether there were efforts made to ensure that children did not have to change schools. The Director Quality, Commissioning & Performance explained that initial accommodation or contingency hotels were provided by the Home Office while asylum claims were assessed, and the Council did not have control of when this changed. It was explained that the Council was making representations to the Home Office on this that explained how disruptive this could be for children and families and asking what could be done to mitigate this in future.
The Sub-Committee asked how children were referred to ‘Virtual Schools’. The Director of Education explained that every Local Authority operated a ‘Virtual School’ and each had a Head Teacher, which was a statutory role. The ‘Virtual School’ was responsible for the attendance of, and outcomes for, Care Experienced Children and children who known to Social Care; this sat above the physical schools where the children were enrolled. Each child had a Personal Education Plan (PEP), which was overseen by a social worker, a named advisor in the ‘Virtual School’, and the Council in its role as a Corporate Parent. In Croydon, the model used was like an ordinary school with leads for each Key Stage and a focus on youth not in employment, education or training (NEETs).
Members asked how spending time outside of their main school setting affected the ability of children and young people to integrate. The Director of Education stated that this depended on each individual child, but that the idea of the interim provision had been to provide a short-term placement until the child was able to enrol at a mainstream school; this had also been to help the development of English skills. The provision had been located in St. Andrews School and a number of children had ultimately transitioned onto mainstream schooling at St. Andrews, which had been positive, as many had already integrated with their peers.