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Latest 22 January 2021

Let’s give all children access to their education

by Pippa Van Praagh, Trustee, Together With Migrant Children

Despite the promises of more laptops and devices for kids who need them, many families across the country are still waiting, and children are still missing out on their education.

The Government has promised another 300,000, but when these will materialise is anybody’s guess. All the while we have children, often from already disadvantaged backgrounds, missing out on the vital education they need, pushing them even further down the ‘life chances’ ladder. That’s why Good Law Project’s continued pressure is so important.

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At Together with Migrant Children, we provide support to migrant and refugee children, young people and families across the UK, but in this case it’s a particular group of children who are falling through the gaps.

Most of the families we support have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) which creates a significant barrier to accessing resources as well as funds. Our Anti-Destitution Project, funded by Children in Need, provides support to families affected by the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition, but the funds from this project does not and cannot cover laptops for the many families we support.

One of the mothers that we work with told us about how the lack of devices at home is impacting her family. She said:

We only have one laptop, but it is broken. It turns off all the time when the kids are doing school work on Zoom and the children get upset. My daughter cries when the laptop turns off and she’s trying to finish and submit her work to the teacher, but she can’t. It is difficult only having one laptop because I have two children. They feel upset and stressed, they are fed up trying to get it to work, and they cannot connect with their friends to talk about the work like some of the other children do.

People have suggested that many of the children we support could be eligible to attend school, as ‘vulnerable children’. But we should not expect parents to make the impossible choice between sending their kids to school where they could catch the virus, or being educated. Every child should have the same rights and resources to learn at home.

During the first lockdown in 2020, provision of technology was mostly tied to a child’s eligibility for free school meals. Children of families with NRPF can temporarily access free school meals, though this is uncertain and time-limited as these are usually tied to eligibility for benefits, which NRPF prevents. Since the start of this lockdown, we’ve received confirmation from many schools that they will be prioritising children who already receive free school meals for laptops too.

The children we support are some of the poorest in the UK, and yet they are stuck in a system that is not only denying them the resources to learn at home, but also access to essential meals. So for us, this is not just an issue over the provision of technology, but also in the way that eligibility for resources is conceived and the hostile every day bordering that occurs in education policy.

Even when these 300,000 laptops are eventually rolled out, the majority of the children we work with are still likely to be excluded again. Schools can choose to provide a laptop – but they have to dip into their incredibly stretched budgets to do so. As it’s not something that Schools must do, children in families with NRPF are often de-prioritised. To give you an idea about the size of the problem, there are an estimated 250,000 children in London alone who are undocumented.

Good Law Project has written again to Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, demanding a timeline for the delivery of the additional laptops and a full and honest assessment of the shortfall.

If you would like to support the work of Together with Migrant Children, you can make a donation here.