28th April 2023

The impact of the Nationality and Borders Act on the educational outcomes of refugee and migrant pupils

The Nationality and Borders Act, signed into legislation in April 2022, has created great debate over the UK’s approach to and treatment of those entering the country. Headline criticisms around the Act include concerns around its departure from international convention and possible incompatibility with international law, and the creation of a twotier system for refugees, which will penalise those who enter the UK through unofficial routes and increase the precariousness of their situations. Given children account for 25% of all those seeking asylum in the UK, the Act is likely to have an impact on many children being educated in the UK. No matter their status, these children have the right to access full time education while in the UK.

While the exact impacts of the Act on children in education are yet to be made clear, it is feared that it will result in children spending even longer periods waiting for their legal status to be resolved and remaining subject to disruptive relocation decisions made by the Home Office. This will exacerbate the difficulties these children encounter when seeking to access education services, such as securing a place in school, college or university, and heighten the challenges they face when they do reach their learning environments. What is clear, however, is that the landscape for refugee and migrant pupils in the UK is changing, and there is an ethical responsibility for all those involved in education to better support this vulnerable group of children to succeed in education and enter the world of work.  

Refugee and migrant children are some of the most vulnerable pupils within the country’s education system. For multiple reasons, they encounter significant barriers while in education, often harming their educational outcomes and limiting their future career paths and earnings later in life. While some of these challenges begin abroad, many are unfortunately a product of UK immigration policy and some due to its education policy. More work must be done to integrate and support these pupils effectively.

In Spring 2023, the Education Policy Institute partnered with the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to conduct a roundtable and webinar on this topic, to heighten understanding of the barriers these children face and explore potential solutions to improve their time in education. This summary paper outlines the key topics that were discussed across the two events, illustrating the difficulties faced by this vulnerable group of children and setting out perspectives on policy solutions for educational settings, the wider sector and policy makers and officials that might better support their learning. Since these discussions occurred, the Illegal Migration Bill has been announced and there are fears that this legislation will exacerbate some of the issues raised during the events. The policy pointers below may need to be amended in any future work in this area in light of changing legislation.

Read the report in full here:

In conclusion of the discussions that took place, the summary paper makes the following policy pointers:

Pointers for schools, colleges and other educational settings 

  • Improve English Language Assessment to ensure that pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) have access to appropriate learning materials and are supported in their language acquisition. 
    • To do so, we should envision EAL training for school staff as similar to SENCo qualifications. 
  • Invest in Continuing Professional Development (CPD ) for teachers, teaching assistants and senior leadership teams. 
    • This is key to equip practitioners with the tools and experiences to meet children at their point of need. 
    • CPD should cover the rights and entitlements of children with different statuses to understand what pupils can access and where there might be legislative gaps where schools may need to provide extra support, for example through funds to access school trips. 
    • There should also be high-quality, effective CPD on teaching in multilingual classrooms. Recognising that the CPD programme is already packed, speakers suggested that teaching in a multilingual classroom should not be seen as an area of specialism but rather multiculturalism and multilingualism should be conceptualised as the norm in a mainstream classroom. 
    • At the European level, UNHCR have created an online resource, ‘training for teachers’ and are also currently developing a partnership with Schools of Sanctuary to train teachers in Europe and the UK. 
    • The Chartered College of Teaching have recently launched a Refugee Education module aimed at school leaders with a focus on developing inclusive school policies for refugee pupils.  
    • The CCT training uses the framework of ‘safety, belonging and success’ developed by Professor Jo McIntyre and Fran Abryms in their book, Refugee Education: Theorising Practice in Schools.
  • Include supporting refugee and migrant pupils in Initial Teacher Training.
  • Reach out to the community to build trust. 
    • Speakers emphasised that there is often reluctance on the part of families to share their status or their experiences for fear of repercussions. They suggested community coffee mornings and reaching out to families at parents evening to build relationships. 
    • This must be a continuous process as it takes time to build trust. 
  • Develop smoother processes for admitting midyear arrivals and older pupils. 
  • Build a culture of inclusion 
    • Trauma-informed approaches are key. 
    • Speakers wished to recognise that the sector works a lot with refugee and migrant communities but integration goes both ways and it is important to work with home pupils on the importance of welcoming and supporting refugee and migrant pupils. 
    • Schools have the power to change the narrative around welcoming children into schools, from one that places burden on the system to one that recognises the value and richness pupils bring to the educational setting following enrolment.
  • Focus on educational attainment, not only providing a safe and welcoming environment. 
    • It is important to have high expectations to ensure refugee and migrant pupils are supported to achieve their potential and fulfil their hopes and aspirations. 
    • This focus should be framed in terms of progress (“distance travelled”), rather than final results (“end destination”), to recognise achievements and encourage pupils to be lifelong learners, rather than feeling alienated from education. 
    • Schools should consider adapted curriculums, for example through accelerated learning to catch up.  
    • Colleges could look to other educational settings to adapt approaches, for example adult phonics programmes in prisons. 
    • Speakers also discussed parallel systems and emphasised the need to move towards integration. They suggested exploring bridging and orientation programmes where parallel provision does exist to support schools when children move into mainstream provision. To do this, clear communication between educational settings is key.
  • Prioritise person-centred approaches, rather than a one size fits all policy, for such a heterogenous group of children and young people and amplify their voices and experiences. 
    • A key part of this is encouraging autonomy when negotiating education pathways. Speakers underlined the importance of children knowing their own rights and statuses in order to make decisions about their future. 
    • To promote this, early intervention is key as it gives children and young people more time before they turn 18 to make decisions and gather the evidence they need to move onto the next stage. 
    • While third sector organisations can play a role in training education practitioners to understand education pathways in addition to rights and entitlements according to different statuses, speakers agreed this information should then be passed on to pupils more widely in order to empower them to make informed decisions. 
    • Refugee and migrant children should be involved in the design and implementation of programmes that support their learning and welfare.  


Pointers for the wider sector 

Many of the pointers for the wider sector focus on sharing best practice and looking at how charities and NGOs can build relationships with schools to support them and their refugee and migrant pupils, an excellent opportunity to build resilience in the face of shifting governments and a changeable policy landscape.  

Speakers recognised that there is more and more of an expectation that schools, colleges and other educational settings are expected to be legal experts with the knowledge and resources to support their pupils to navigate immigration and funding systems, but in fact it is not realistic or fair to expect education staff to have this expertise. To build networks of support, speakers suggested the following: 

  • Recognising limited resources, as far as possible, bring in legal experts to work with education settings and third sector organisations to inform action.  
    • There should be a log of previous cases available in order to scale legal challenges as early case results often inform later process.
  • Create a portal which lists organisations working in this space and available resources 
    • There is lots of excellent voluntary provision but often education settings do not know what is available. 
    • This also helps to build resilience in the system and encourage strategic thinking so support is not halted or knowledge lost when individual teachers, school staff or charity workers move to new roles. 
  • Look to international examples 
    • Best practice can often be informed by the examples of other countries. In particular, speakers stressed that, within UK borders, Scotland and Wales are operating in a slightly different political context with the potential for more positive work to support refugee education.
    • Education providers need specific guidance from third sector practitioners in the sector. 
    • As recognised above, refugee and migrant pupils are a heterogenous group with widely varying support needs. Speakers highlighted that third sector practitioners must be specific in their guidance to education providers in order to ensure that the children and young people’s needs are met. 
  • Build cross-party support
    • Now is a key moment for influencing manifestos ahead of a likely general election in 2024. Speakers highlighted that the sector tends to appeal to politicians who already supported improving education access for refugee and migrant pupils, yet it is critical to reach out to politicians that may have different views and seek to find common ground to build cross-party support.  
    • Education should be integrated into the policy conversation around child refugees and migrants, which tends to focus less on education and more on areas such as arrivals, housing and age assessments. 
    • It is key to include refugees and migrants themselves to share frontline experiences. 


Pointers for policy makers and officials 

  • Improve data collection. 
    • Although panellists expressed concerns over asking pupils to declare status, they felt that without more robust data, it is very difficult to implement policies to improve outcomes. 
    • One suggestion is to include a refugee or asylum-seeking pupil flag in the school census. 
  • Publish statutory guidance on what schools and Local Authorities must do to comply with immigration and education law.  
    • The education sector needs a greater understanding of how the Nationalities and Borders Act and other immigration policy will affect their pupils. 
    • This statutory guidance should be enforced by Ofsted to ensure education settings are held accountable.
  • Make citizenship the affirmative goal of the Home Office.
  • Remove the concept of the ‘hostile’ (or ‘compliant’) environment for children. 
  • Introduce a cross- government unit or strategy for those who support refugee and migrant pupils. 
    • Panellists suggested introducing a unit or strategy that extends across government departments to create joined up thinking, and remove children from the immigration debate, to address overarching challenges that relate to ethos and intention across departments. 
  • Create a late arrival strategy published by the Department for Education. 
    • Introduce a late arrival premium and facilitate schools and colleges working together to ensure children who arrive in Key Stage 4 have routes into appropriate education. 

You can watch this event back here:


This event series and summary paper has been supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Paul Hamlyn Foundation was established by Paul Hamlyn in 1987. He died in 2001 and left most of his estate to the Foundation, creating one of the largest independent grant-making foundations in the UK. They use their resources to support social change, working towards a just and equitable society in which everyone, especially young people, can realise their full potential and enjoy fulfilling and creative lives.