Adult asylum seekers who lie about their age are being placed in British schools alongside children as young as 11, teachers have warned.
School heads revealed that they discovered cases of men in their 20s being sent to school with young children after deliberately misrepresenting their age in order to bolster their asylum claims.
One teacher said that he had been sent a student supposedly aged 15 or 16 who was actually 20 or 21. Michael Waters, who is head teacher of St Anselm’s Roman Catholic Secondary School in Kent, said that immigrant children who arrive without parents are being sent to schools with few checks on their backgrounds.
“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,” he said.
Many of the asylum seekers are from war torn regions such as Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.
“We are being asked to admit pupils to our schools with very little information. Sometimes there is doubt about where they come from, and what age they are.”
“While I recognise that there is a very difficult balance to strike here, 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.
“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.”
Spires Academy, also in Kent, reports having had two asylum seeking children placed in it this year. Head teacher Nicki Martin said: “There appears to be an increasing number of them being placed in the local area, judging by the increase in the 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.”
However, Kent County Council, the local education authority, has insisted that is assesses asylum seekers “rigorously” before placing them in schools, saying it has a legal duty to take care of them.
Council spokesman Jo Toscano said: “When they arrive in Kent, they are rigorously assessed by skilled social workers and educational assessors who are experienced in making an informed judgement about their age.
“In many cases, due to the lack of records or disruption in their home country, there is no way to check this information.
“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 and to inform police and the Home Office.
“In such cases, there is no evidence to suggest other pupils have been placed at risk.”