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Child Asylum Seekers

Volume 460: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

3. If he will take steps to ensure that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are eligible for free state education until they reach 18 years of age. (138954)

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and there are 3,000 of them most years, will not complete their full-time education if the Home Office reduces their discretionary leave from 18 to 17½ before they are deported. What will happen with their exams if they are pushed out six months early?

As I am sure you will understand, Mr. Speaker, I cannot answer questions on behalf of the Home Office on immigration policy, but I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are doing all that we can to support those children within the education system. That means, as I said earlier, ensuring that they have free entitlement throughout their time in schooling, up to the age of 18, including Learning and Skills Council-funded courses at levels 2 and 3, as would be the case for any other child in this country.

The Secretary of State referred to the “Every Child Matters” programme in connection with looked-after children. May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) on his excellent campaign? This is a very large category of looked-after children, yet it seems to be dealt with by the Home Office. What assurances can the Minister give the House that that category of looked-after children are having the best possible outcomes, along with every other looked-after child and, indeed, every other child in this country?

The hon. Lady makes a fair point about the attainment of that group of looked-after children. While 56 per cent. of children typically manage to attain five good GCSEs, as she will be aware, that figure is about 11 per cent. for looked-after children and just 4 per cent. for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, so there is more that we can do, and we are determined to do that. There is the ethnic minority achievement grant, for example, which is worth £178 million and will be targeted particularly at bilingual children. There are things that can be done at local level, too. Devon county council, in which the constituency of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) is located, is producing local literature targeting support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The Department for Education and Skills has provided guidance. We are also working closely with the Home Office to look at the interface between the unaccompanied asylum seekers grant and the care leavers grant. Work is ongoing between us and the Home Office.