Immigrants in 20s put in Kent schools with pupils as young as 11
Immigrants who lie about their age are being placed in Kent schools alongside pupils as young as 11, KentOnline can reveal.
Headteachers in Canterbury have disclosed that men in their 20s claiming asylum are being dishonest about their ages - prompting concern over the safety of children in schools.
It is the latest alarming twist in the immigration crisis engulfing Kent as thousands of people pour into the county from the continent each month.
Migrants at Calais. Picture: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Education chiefs at Kent County Council insist they are careful about where they send unaccompanied asylum-seeking and will remove any pupils discovered to be adults.
Michael Walters, the headteacher at St Anselm’s School in Old Dover Road, says children are being deposited in schools in a "random and haphazard" way with very little known about their backgrounds.
When contacted, he described instances when schools had been told to expect pupils "who were 15 or 16 only to find that they were clearly 20 or 21".
Mr Walters said: "While we have great sympathy with those unaccompanied asylum seekers who arrive in England in need of education and support, this does present a difficult position for schools.
"We are being asked to admit pupils to our schools with very little information about them. Sometimes there is doubt about where they have come from, and even what age they are."
St Anselm's, which is a Catholic school, currently has one unaccompanied asylum-seeking child.
Mr Walters says the majority come from or claim to come from war-torn countries in the Middle East.
Mike Walters, Head of St Anselm's School, Canterbury
Syria and Iraq are currently beset by fighting as the Islamic State continues its brutal conquest of territories.
Others come from countries such as Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.
He added that a dearth of information about the new pupils poses difficulties for schools.
“While I recognise that there is a very difficult balance to strike here,” Mr Walters went on, “this lack of information and uncertainty could be seen as a safeguarding issue for schools.
“Quite rightly, schools are held to the very highest standards when it comes to keeping children safe and without proper assessment of risk and fuller information.
“I believe that there have to be serious questions asked in some cases about the wisdom of immediately placing these children into mainstream educational settings" - Michael Walters
“I believe that there have to be serious questions asked in some cases about the wisdom of immediately placing these children into mainstream educational settings.”
The Spires Academy at Hersden has had two unaccompanied asylum-seeking children placed in it this term.
Headteacher Nicki Mattin said: “There appear to be increasing numbers of them being placed in the local area, judging by the increase in applications to us since September.
“While many of these are genuine cases and we will do all that we can to support these young people, a minority are not. As a school we have to be increasingly vigilant given the lack of information that is provided. Safeguarding our pupils is paramount.”
The Abbey School in Faversham, Canterbury’s Archbishop’s School and the Community College Whitstable did not respond to requests for a comment about the issue.
Herne Bay High said it echoed the views of Mr Walters.
Kent County Council insists it assesses unaccompanied asylum-seekers "rigorously" before finding them school places and will act decisively to pull pupils out of schools if it emerges they are adults.
Spokesman Jo Toscano said: "Asylum-seeking children are treated the same as other children in care.
A refugee camp in Kurdistan, near the Syrian border
"When they arrive in Kent, they are rigorously assessed by skilled social workers who are experienced in making informed judgements about their ages.
"In many cases, due to the lack of records or disruption in their home country, there is no way to check this information.
"Like any other child in care, schools are allocated on the basis of where they live.
"In very rare cases where asylum-seeking children have been found to be older than the age they claimed, action has immediately been taken to remove them from school. In such cases, there is no evidence to suggest other pupils have been placed at risk."
Last year 130 unaccompanied children turned up in Kent with most found in the back of lorries.
Younger children are placed with foster carers while those judged to be at least 15 or 16 are put up in a converted old people's home.