This week we had the opportunity to catch up with one of our ex students from France. He is now living in Yorkshire. The BBC traced him and asked us if we would like to make contact with him again, as they were hoping to do a follow up interview with him. We leapt at the chance, as we are always very pleased to keep in touch and hear how people have done.
When we travelled up to meet our ex-pupil we were surprised at his circumstances. He is a school age pupil who is attending English, Maths and ICT lessons. Apparently it is not possible to arrange any further classes for him until next September because the area is overwhelmed with demand. (Talking to some adult asylum seekers in the area, they also reported that they were unable to get access to English classes until the following September).
English, Maths and ICT are all important subjects, but they are hardly anything like a breadth of education which we would accept for our own UK national teenagers. Why is it that it is good enough for asylum seeking children who have fled from Syria and the Middle East ? And why is it that we have an asylum seeker settlement policy in place which is leading to educational courses and programmes in certain parts of the country being overwhelmed, whilst as educationalists we know of colleges in other parts of the country which have so many empty places on courses that they are cancelling their courses?
Young people like our ex-pupil are surprisingly streetwise in some respects, but have no idea of the basics in others. He can tell the difference between categories of bombs and bullets but he has absolutely no idea how to boil an egg. He is desperate to make friends with English speaking UK nationals, but he has been put in an area which is more densely populated with non-English speakers, than the part of the Middle East which he actually fled from.
He can go into college now and then, for some courses. The rest of the time he is left wandering around the streets. He can’t make friends with UK nationals very easily, because he hasn’t got an opportunity to meet them and get to know them.
So he is left sitting in back street cafes run by members of the Arabic or Kurdish community, having to accept people sidling up to him and whispering about the inequities of Western policies. He is not interested in international politics and he is not interested in the lies peddled by the extremists. He just wants to meet fellow teenagers, who are UK nationals so that he can integrate and start a new life. Instead he has been shunted into a settling in Yorkshire and left to wander the streets so that he can be preyed upon by anyone with an extremist axe to grind.
How is this a remotely sensible, or safe way to treat children? School is the universal safe place for children. We had always thought that it was a relatively uncontroversial idea that anyone under the age of 18 should be in a school, or in progammes which involve a very substantial amount of time in a school type setting. What we have seen over the last year is that this is far from obvious. Even now there are several thousand children in Greece unable to access any kind of education. We are gradually becoming aware that there are a number of asylum seeking children in the UK who are also unable to access an appropriate standard of education.
Sadly these children have no one to speak up for them, because they are largely invisible. OFSTED has flagged up the scandal of illegal schools teaching inappropriately. What they are doing is unacceptable, but the children are at least visible and can be seen. Children like our ex-pupil is essentially invisible. He is just another faded set of clothes wandering a street from café to café wondering what to do with himself.
We were pleased to have the opportunity to catch up with him, but in truth it has been quite a dispiriting and depressing experience hearing about what is happening.