The government’s ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme aims to enable tens of thousands of people, including school-age children, to flee the war in Ukraine and come to the UK. So how can host families help find these children the right school and apply for a place?
The good news is that refugee children have the same right to schooling as any other child. In fact, it’s a legal requirement for them to be in education until they are 18.
As such, Local Authorities must offer free school places in accordance with their published admissions arrangements, and they must ensure that there is no unreasonable delay in securing school admission for any child.
Children will normally start full-time school in the September after their 4th birthday but there is the option to take up a part-time place (or keep them at home or in nursery) until the start of the first term following their 5th birthday.
For children who have passed this age, the chances are you’ll be looking for them to join school mid-year. Although this usually requires the child to be living at the address before they can apply for a place, there’s no harm in making enquiries sooner.
Different for Ukrainians?
‘The school admissions arrangements for Ukrainian children for Local Authority maintained and Academy schools will not be different than for those of other refugee children,’ a spokesperson for Coram Children’s Legal Centre told us.
That said, the government is providing additional funding to councils to provide education services for children from families arriving from Ukraine, with the Department for Education (DfE) allocating funding on a per pupil basis.
Finding a state school place for refugees
Your Local Authority will be able to provide information on local state schools with places available in the child’s age group.
‘They can also advise if there is a local policy for supporting Ukrainian refugee children who have recently arrived in the area in a local school,’ says a spokesperson for Coram Children’s Legal Centre.
Armed with this information, you should do your own research into which schools would be the best fit. Use our schools directory to create a list of those closest to you, find out if there are other refugees in these schools (especially Ukrainians) and ask what the school would do to meet the child’s needs (especially around pastoral and language issues).
Some schools are going above and beyond. St Martin’s School in Caerphilly, Wales, for example, is offering its empty caretaker’s house to Ukrainian refugees, and the school also hopes to provide education and even work for refugees. ‘The house’s location – within two minutes walking distance of the school – will hopefully help the family get involved in the school and the community,’ says headteacher Lee Jarvis. ‘We’re hoping other schools will think about doing the same, as well as remembering there are other ways they can help well beyond the classroom, thanks to – for example - IT teams and links with local councils.’
Finding an independent school place for refugees
As independent schools charge fees, the parent/carer or host family will usually need to put their hand in their pocket to fund a school place. However, some schools offer scholarships or bursaries and you may even find they offer specific support for Ukrainian families.
Brighton College, for example, is opening 15 free scholarship places for Ukrainian children aged between 5-17 who have been forced to leave their country. Parents and friends of current pupils have clubbed together to show support – with one person even donating a four-bedroom property for some of the displaced children to stay in.
Oundle School is taking a more cross-sector approach. ‘An academically selective independent school, especially a boarding one, isn’t necessarily the right school for a refugee child or family,’ says Gordon Montgomery, deputy head partnerships. ‘So instead, the heads of the 10 schools in our area – us, our prep and the local state schools – are coming together to pool expertise and resources, as well as to help families find the very best fit for the particular child.’
Finding an online school place
There are two types of online schools – those that provide a structured school day with live lessons and those that offer a distance learning model with regular online input from trained teachers.
For Ukrainian students who have a good grasp of English and/or who are working towards important exams, this way of learning may feel less daunting at a time of crisis. Online learning is also more flexible than a traditional school.
Online schools are fee-paying but some are providing bursaries and/or are willing to provide financial back-up on a case by case basis. Pearson Virtual Schools, for example, has established a special bursary/scholarship programme to support displaced Ukrainian students through its UK and US curriculum online schools, including Harrow School Online.
Schools of Sanctuary
Schools of Sanctuary is a national network of over 340 nurseries, schools and colleges (mostly state but some independent) committed to creating a culture of inclusion for refugees. If there’s one in your area, it could be well worth considering.
‘In Schools of Sanctuary, the children will have been taught about migration, to challenge misconceptions and to be compassionate and empathetic. We also ask schools to review their policies around admissions, EAL, mental health – especially trauma - and how they engage with and support newly arriving families around issues such as accessing healthcare,’ explains Megan Greenwood, Schools of Sanctuary co-ordinator at City of Sanctuary UK.
There’s also growing network of Local Authorities (10 so far) committed to supporting the Schools of Sanctuary network and they may be able to help people find a School of Sanctuary in their area. ‘I’d advise host families to ask their Local Authority about it and if they’re not already part of our network, encourage them to consider supporting it not just because it helps refugees but because the values benefit all students.’
However, just because a school belongs to the network doesn’t mean it has a place available.
Oak National Academy
You may remember Oak National Academy from the Covid lockdowns. The charity was set up in the pandemic to support teachers with online lesson planning and delivery, then later with homework and catchup. The charity is now rolling out translated versions of its 10,000 lessons – which cover the entire National Curriculum for 4-16 year-olds - in Ukrainian and Russian for refugee children newly arrived in the UK.
‘When the situation in Ukraine happened, we were already working on a function to support children in the UK for whom English isn’t their first language and this sped things up, with subtitles in videos and slides also translated,’ says Jonathan Dando, director of school support.
Host families can use the translated lessons until a school place is found, then as a backup tool, he says. ‘The idea is to help create stability, structure and routine – all the things which we know are so important when moving from a crisis situation.’
Applying for a school place
Each Local Authority publishes an admissions guide on its website listing all local state schools. But don’t forget to talk to them first about the issues covered in this article. Note that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own admissions procedures.
To apply for a place in an independent school place, apply directly to the school.
Other ways to help
‘Hosts should carefully reflect on the availability of services and support within their areas,’ points out Megan Greenwood. ‘Some areas, including some isolated rural areas, may have a limited choice of schools with places and poor transport links to get to school and so may not be suited to welcoming a Ukrainian child.’
If you come to that conclusion about your area, remember there are many other ways you can support Ukrainians. Read the UK government advice on supporting Ukrainians.
Our Education Consultants are providing 15-minute consultation calls, free of charge, for anyone who needs help understanding how to find a school place for a Ukrainian refugee child.
Call: 0800 368 7694
Email: [email protected]
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