Segregated schools for asylum-seekers won't work

Thursday 16 January 2014 04:03

It says something that the closest thing our improvised constitution has to checks and balances is the half-reformed House of Lords. This week, the flawed assemblage of timeservers, retired MPs, "elected" hereditary peers, "people's peers" and bishops has another chance to prove the value of the principle of a second, revising chamber of parliament.

A coalition of peers with a better understanding of justice and compassion than the Home Secretary will table amendments to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill to give the children of asylum-seekers the same rights to attend state schools as any other children.

David Blunkett's plans to put newly-arrived children in separate schools at the accommodation centres he intends to build shames this country's reputation for tolerance. While Bill Morris, the Transport and General Workers Union leader, exaggerates when he compares the plan to segregated education in South Africa, he is right about the principle. This may not be segregation explicitly on the basis of race, but in many cases it will effectively be so, a point to which Mr Blunkett drew attention with his use of the word "swamped" to describe the effect on some schools of the arrival of asylum-seekers' children.

This is not simply an issue of welcoming outsiders and of recognising that all children benefit from diversity in their classmates' backgrounds; it is an issue of justice. Just as their parents have the right to be treated as genuine refugees until it is proved that they are not, the children of asylum-seekers have the right to be included before they are excluded.

Mr Blunkett made an important point, albeit in a deplorable way, about the possible effects of high pupil turnover and of large numbers of non-English-speaking pupils – often in schools which have a "challenging" intake from the indigenous population anyway. But those can be overcome, if money is put into employing more teachers and classroom assistants – money which will be spent in any case on separate schooling. Segregated education will impoverish everyone.

Not for the first time, the rebel peers deserve to defeat Mr Blunkett.

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