The Education Secretary has said that councils should work with newly arrived Ukrainian families to ensure children can attend school as soon as possible, including by going above published admission numbers or exceeding infant class sizes where necessary.
In a letter to councils published on Friday, Nadhim Zahawi said that all children arriving under the Homes for Ukraine and Ukraine Family schemes have the right to education whilst in the UK.
“I know from my own experience as an 11-year-old that the best place for all children to be educated is in schools and that attending school is vital to help newly arrived children integrate as quickly as possible into the communities in which they are living,” he said.
He added that the Government expected that if there were school places in the local area, even if not in the “immediate vicinity” of a family’s home, “the local authority will work with families arriving from Ukraine to enable the children to attend school as soon as possible”.
He said that schools should be flexible when it came to class size limits.
“Local authorities should be looking to provide places and, where necessary, use the flexibilities to admit above published admission number (PAN) and exceed the infant class size limit, as well as using the in-year Fair Access Protocol,” he said.
He added that a team at the Department for Education is dedicated to helping newly arrived Ukrainian pupils.
Last month, Mr Zahawi announced that online classroom Oak National Academy would provide auto-translated versions of its lessons in Ukrainian and Russian to help refugee pupils access education.
Mr Zahawi said in the letter that he was “extremely grateful for the warm welcome many local authorities have given to the families who arrived from Afghanistan and Hong Kong” and thanked them for their “tremendous support” in helping Ukrainian families settle in the UK.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “There will be many schools up and down the country welcoming Ukrainian refugee children into their classrooms. They will be preparing language support, help with mental health and wellbeing, and will often become a point of contact for families when they need help.
“It is in situations like this that great teachers and school leaders can be life-changing for children and young people.
“It’s important that schools are able to access the support they need, including translation services, so that they can fully meet the needs of these children and families. I’m proud that the teaching profession remains dedicated to providing help and support educating those most in need.”
The Local Government Association said that councils had “concerns” about “what happens if children arrive in an area and schools are already at capacity, or schools are unwilling to take children”.
They said there were potential issues with academy schools, which councils could not direct to take pupils as they are not under local authority control.
They [councils] have to apply to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) for them to use their powers and this can sometimes be bureaucratic and time-consuming,” the LGA said.
“We would ask DfE and ESFA to work constructively with councils on the ground to resolve issues where schools are full, but the council considers that a local school has capacity to admit them – even if only temporarily until more long-term arrangements can be made .”
The LGA added that “there may be situations where schools cannot physically, or in staff terms, accommodate new children” and that new temporary classes or classroom spaces, or travel to schools further away with more capacity, would be needed, as well as additional funding.
“We would like DfE to work with councils to help them respond to localized shortages of the necessary school places and staff to teach and support new pupils.”