Raising the issue of migrant girls’ access to education in Parliament

On the 18th of July 2023, WONDER had the pleasure of launching our latest report in Parliament along with MP Sarah Champion. 

We were joined by over 60 people at our launch in Parliament, including MPs, Lords, the Children’s Commissioner for England, experts, practitioners, and migrant girls. The aim of the event was threefold: to present WONDER’s research on migrant girls’ access to education in England; to hear from other experts and practitioners what their experiences and best practices are; and to foster a conversation between different groups all working towards the same goal – access to education for all children – but who may not have otherwise met. 

Access to education is a right that all children are entitled to. But many migrant girls in England have been falling through the cracks, and are missing out on the education they deserve – sometimes for months at a time. Our new report examines the barriers migrant girls face to accessing education when they arrive in England, and what we can do about it. 

Learning from our work with the Baytree Centre 

As explained by experts and practitioners, migrant girls face significant barriers to education. Eva Gondorova, who works at the Baytree Centre, our partner in the UK, spoke about her experience as coordinator of the Centre’s Into School program. 

Into School is a structural education program for recently arrived out of school girls of secondary school age. It facilitates their transition into the UK education system by offering a range of support services and activities, such as English classes, social activities, support with school applications, and mentoring. Currently, Into School is working with 28 girls who are out of school, some for months at a time. The biggest challenge they face is the complex school application procedure. But even parents who manage to overcome this barrier and apply to schools face rejection upon rejection, or simply don’t get a response at all.

As a result, centres like Baytree have become critical as a source of interim education. Two recently arrived migrant girls from Kuwait shared their experiences as migrants in England, and explained how important the Baytree Centre is for them. They were able to confidently learn English, make friends, and receive help for joining schools. 

How other charities are improving access to education in the UK

The excellent practices put in place by Into School and the Baytree Centre are still desperately needed by refugee communities, despite the fact that interim education should not need to exist. It is therefore important that best practices from other organisations are shared, given that they are still needed to fill the gaps where the government is failing. We were able to hear from experts in the field – Amy Ashlee from Refugee Education UK, Stephanie Wauthier from the UNHCR, Megan Greenwood from City of Sanctuary, and Eleanor Chapman from the School of Education at the University of Bristol – what best practices they had encountered in their careers. These practices include: 

  • Providing solid induction and integration programs when migrants join schools. For example, subject-specific tuition to bring refugees up to speed can be combined with their gentle integration into classes that are not language-intensive like Maths or Art.
  • Establishing dedicated holistic and mental health support to migrant children and their families. Mentoring is a key tool used to provide one-on-one support to vulnerable individuals, for example. Another support system which has been created by some schools is the pairing of newly arrived families with established families, who will serve as their guides to the neighbourhood and a point of support. 
  • Support that is gender-sensitive: migrant girls are at greater risk of sexual violence and trafficking, and may have domestic or family-care expectations that boys do not face. It is therefore crucial for policies on access to education to adopt a gender-sensitive approach and acknowledge the need for empowering spaces.

Hearing from Dame Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner, on migrant girls’ education

These ideas were extremely well received by the Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, who emphasised the role she can play in helping migrant girls access education. The Children’s Commissioner has a duty to promote and protect the rights of all children. In her role, she has the legal right to obtain any information or data about children. This right was used to write to every Local Authority in the country to find out how many unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) are out of school. The data is stark: 21% of these children are out of school. This is particularly worrisome from a safeguarding perspective, as MP Sarah Champion pointed out – children who are out of school are significantly more vulnerable than those who are not.

This is not the full picture, however. UASC are only a small subgroup of migrants, and data for all other migrants does not exist. It is therefore crucial for the government to reform its data collection system to capture information about other groups. Armed with better data collection mechanisms, local authorities, schools, and the government can take the first steps towards shortening the road to education for migrant girls in England. 

We hope that our event helped foster important conversations about access to education for migrant girls, both in Parliament and out. To learn more about the barriers to education migrant girls face when arriving in the UK, and what we can do about it, read the report below.

Author: Yasmine Yared

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