Refugee and asylum seeker children aged 5-16 have the same entitlement to full-time education as other children in the UK

Teenage male sitting at desk smiling

Local authorities have a legal duty to ensure that education is available for all children of compulsory school age resident in their local area that is appropriate to age, ability and any special educational needs (SEN) they may have.

This duty applies irrespective of a child's immigration status or rights of residence. 

School admissions

Refugee and asylum seeker children and young people however, can often find it harder to access education compared with other groups.

Some children have been left without school places for long periods of time for a number of reasons. This can impact upon securing a place for children and young people in schools, with issues of dispersal often resulting in significant movement between schools and lengthy waiting periods for a school place to become available. The school admissions process can also be complex. 

Newly arrived pupils and those from refugee families may have needs that can have a significant influence on a pupil's capacity to learn and settle into a new school environment. This can include the physical and mental health of a family member. If these needs are not met effectively these children may take on significant and inappropriate caring responsibilities for their family that impact upon their educational achievement and life chances as well as their own emotional and physical health.

Schools should develop a whole school approach to supporting refugee children by providing effective support when there is a clear whole school commitment to inclusion and race equality; including those taking on inappropriate care.

The Government outlines the schools admission process for overseas children and provides an 'all you need to know' guide, to help you with this process.

Young refugees taking on inappropriate care

Schools should not overlook those pupils who take on inappropriate caring responsibilities - including those from refugee communities.

Anecdotal evidence shows that there are a significant amount of children and young people in this situation, however they are often hidden from view and their needs left unmet.

Often, these children are caring for relatives without their teachers’ knowledge and if unidentified and unsupported, their caring roles can seriously affect their future well-being, life chances and levels of aspiration. 

The Young Carers in Schools Programme is a free England-wide initiative that makes it as easy as possible for schools to support young carers and also awards good practice.

Barriers to learning and achieving in school

Young refugees may face barriers to achieving their own potential in school. Compounding this may be additional challenges faced by those who are also taking on inappropriate caring roles for someone in their family.

These barriers may include:

  • Racist bullying
  • Bullying because of family illness or caring responsibilities.
  • Loss of identity
  • The loss of friends and family
  • Concerns about the future
  • Lack of English skills and knowledge of systems
  • Stresses in the family
  • Disruption to education
  • Isolation - difficulties making new friends in peer group
  • Difficulty completing homework
  • Poor attendance at school due to caring role
  • Unable to participate in extra-curricular activities
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Mental health problems 

Good practice suggestions for schools

  • Using the Citizenship and/or PSHE curriculum to promote both equality and diversity including disability.
  • Encourage young people to discuss religious and ethnic identities as well as mutual respect; tolerance and understanding that will aid harmonious relationships.
  • Responding to pupils’ diverse needs by taking into account their cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds when planning, in order to ensure that all pupils feel secure and are able to take part in lessons fully and effectively. Teachers should liaise with other relevant professionals including social workers.
  • Ensuring staff are able to access adequate training and resources.
  • Making information accessible in other languages e.g. letters home, reports relating to young carers attainment and progress.
  • It may be difficult for some parents/carers to attend parents’ evenings or understand the concept, as the education system may be very different in the country of origin. Check with local authority provision for translation services and additional financial support e.g. school transport and school uniforms.
  • Schools should monitor and assess how their policies affect minority ethnic pupils, staff and parents including those from refugee and asylum seeking communities.
  • Schools should develop good practice for inclusivity, actively promote equality of opportunity and ensure that newly arrived pupils and families do not experience additional barriers that will impact on their progress and well-being.

Schools can promote good practice and consider the health and well-being of newly arrived pupils and their families by:

  • Developing a welcome pack for all new arrivals, to include an outline of the school day, map and lead teacher’s details
  • Develop a peer mentoring scheme that supports the welcome and continued integration of newly arrived pupils
  • Communicating well with parents of new arrivals and using interpreters where appropriate
  • Developing close cooperation with school nurses, health visitors and local child and considering the mental health needs of pupils and families.
  • Ensuring health information of families is gathered during the admissions process
  • Ensuring new arrivals are referred for a health check
  • Ensuring families are aware of the local bilingual health advocacy services
  • The Department for Education has published specific guidance on preventing and tackling bullying including bullying related to disability, race and religion - ‘Appropriate support within schools can increase the development of personal and social development within individuals; it can also provide support and encouragement on aspects of schoolwork, help to build confidence and esteem and encourage a more positive participation in school life’

Free Schools Meals

Maintained school and academy sixth-forms are required by the Education Act 1996 to provide free meals to disadvantaged students who are aged over 16.

In the 2014 to 2015 academic year this requirement was extended to disadvantaged students following Further Education (FE) courses at the range of FE funded institutions. Funding agreements have been amended to place a legal duty on institutions to comply with this requirement.

Free meals are targeted at disadvantaged students. For the purposes of eligibility for free meals, disadvantage is defined by the students being in receipt of, or having parents who are in receipt of, one or more of the following benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseekers Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Support under part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • Child Tax Credit (provided they are not entitled to Working Tax Credit) and have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190, as assessed by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
  • Working Tax Credit run-on – paid for 4 weeks after someone stops qualifying for Working Tax Credit.

A student is only eligible to receive a free meal when they, or a parent/guardian on their behalf, have made a successful application to the institution where they are enrolled.

All children in reception classes, Year 1 and 2 get free school meals.

Useful links:

Further education and financial support  

Further Education is post-compulsory education at a pre-degree level.

Colleges and further education can enable young people to continue with their own personal development and support their general wellbeing. However many young people may find it difficult to secure places at college or further education establishments. This can include barriers such as waiting times, financial assistance and challenges navigating a different education system. Young people can apply to study at a sixth form or further education college and obtaining a place should be based upon availability of places and the eligibility of the student in line with the colleges normal admissions criteria. 

Bursary Fund:

The 16 to 19 Bursary Fund provides financial support to help students overcome specific barriers to participation so they can remain in education.

There are 2 types of 16 to 19 bursaries:

  • A vulnerable bursary of up to £1,200 a year for young people in one of the defined vulnerable groups, this includes young people in care and care leavers
  • Discretionary bursaries which institutions award to meet individual needs, for example, help with the cost of transport, meals, books and equipment.

Institutions are responsible for managing both types of bursary. Students who want to apply for support from the bursary fund should contact their chosen institution as soon as possible to make an application.

Discretionary learner support

If you’re aged 19 or over, on a further education course and facing financial hardship, you could get Discretionary Learner Support (DLS).

You apply to your learning provider (eg your college) for DLS. How much you get depends on your circumstances.

The money can help pay for things like:

  • accommodation and travel
  • course materials and equipment
  • childcare - if you qualify

Some universities offer scholarships, bursaries, fee waivers and reduced fees to help people who have claimed asylum in the UK access higher education. Student Action for Refugee (STAR) lists universities that offer this kind of support

Useful links: