Private school heads criticise ‘frustrating’ and ‘complex’ visa scheme for Ukrainian pupils
Private school headteachers who have welcomed refugee pupils have criticised the visa application process for being too complicated and slow.
Steve Marshall-Taylor, head of senior school at Brighton College, said his school had offered 17 free places for Ukrainian refugees, with 16 having already arrived.
Mr Marshall-Taylor said that one host parent, who was a trained legal professional, spent five to six hours filling in the forms with the Ukrainian mother and daughter she was supporting.
He added: “It was incredibly difficult just to complete the forms and then there was a huge time lag for almost all of them, I think, and that sort of void of uncertainty we knew we had wonderful families, we had school places, we had uniform and everything was ready, we had a sense we could provide some good opportunities, but there has just been this wait.”
Samantha Price, head of Benenden School and president of the Girls’ Schools Association, said her school had opened up a boarding place for a Ukrainian student this term, so that she could start studying her A-levels in science in September.
Two day school places had been offered to other refugee pupils but she said the process was “complex” and “frustrating” for the person who would be boarding.
Ms Price added: “She’s going to be travelling on her own and her mother has managed to get her out of the Ukraine – they live in Odesa. But her visa hasn’t come through because she’s going to be a minor travelling on her own and there’s a worry about trafficking.”
The girl can no longer stay with her mother in Moldova, so she could either travel with her mother back to Odesa or to the UK, but at the moment the Home Office is not granting her a visa.
The girl’s proposed guardian in the UK has now offered to fly to Moldova, which Ms Price said she hoped would be “a way forward”.
Ms Price added that she understood the concerns about trafficking, “but I think there must be a better system if guardians over here through an expected scheme have been recognised, there must be a way then for those pupils being able to fly over without having to go through this level of delay and uncertainty”.
She said her school was offering “bespoke” support to the pupils – one pupil who has limited English will be able to take qualifications in Russian as well as studying biology and English as an additional language.
“It’s also the fact that these students are coming from a war zone and ensuring that they have the right levels of pastoral care, with trauma counselling and so on.”
The boarding school pupil’s peers have opted to “kit out” her dorm in order to welcome her, with duvet covers, cushions, fairy lights and plants “so that when she arrives she has a happy dormitory to go into”, while parent donors have offered to cover the cost of any extra-curricular trips or activities for the pupils.
Tim Firth, headmaster of Wrekin College, said his school had a link with the country, as there were four Ukrainian pupils on roll prior to the conflict, and that he had been in contact with them to ensure they had not gone back to Ukraine over the holidays.
The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, a group of leading UK private schools, wrote to Wrekin asking if they could help and he offered up free places for refugee pupils fleeing the conflict.
One girl is due to start in September in the sixth form, and two younger pupils in key stage three have already started at the school, as they are related to a British-Ukrainian family at the school.
“Apart from it being a privilege and proper to help, Ukrainian pupils are often really impressive,” he said, adding “their English is tremendous”.
“So this is about them helping us and lifting our community,” he said.
The school’s Wrekin International Group has held a parade in honour of Ukraine and Mr Firth said pupils were having their “eyes opened” about the realities of the conflict.