Integration is still the key

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Children of asylum seekers should be taught in a multi-cultural environment with youngsters from the home community

The proposal that children of asylum seekers should be educated in specially set-up accommodation centres rather than in mainstream schools has provoked widespread resentment among the teachers' unions. This week that most militantly moderate union, the Professional Association of Teachers, which rarely raises its head above the parapet, became the first to voice concern in a conference debate on the issue since the proposals were first drawn up by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary.

It is true that the proposals have been watered down in the teeth of opposition from back-bench Labour MPs, and that all children will be assessed as to their educational needs after six months in an accommodation centre. It is also true that the children of asylum seekers tend to congregate in a minority of schools in some of the hardest-pressed urban communities in the country, subjecting the schools to more strains and stresses as they strive to provide an adequate education for their charges.

Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education, recently told MPs at the select committee that it may well be the case that the children concerned would receive a better education in the accommodation centres than they would pitchforked into a school without adequate resources to cope with providing for them. After considering that argument, we reject it. You need only to look at the strides made by some of the schools in our most deprived urban areas to see that it is possible to accommodate the children of asylum seekers in mainstream education. Witness the White Hart Lane school in Tottenham, north London, whose pupils speak 65 different home languages. It has a policy of hiring teachers with a range of different language skills and teaching the pupils through the medium of their own home language while they build up their knowledge of English. Surely it is better, as they do this, that they should be mixing in a multi-cultural environment with youngsters from the home community, rather than being taught at an accommodation centre, where their assimilation into the English community that may soon accept them is likely to be hampered because they are cut off from such contact.

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