Private school principals slam ‘frustrating’ visa process for Ukrainian students

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Private headteachers who have taken in refugee pupils at their schools have said processing visas for vulnerable students traveling to the UK has been too slow.

Steve Marshall-Taylor, head of secondary school at Brighton College, said his school had made 17 offers of free places for Ukrainian refugees, 16 of whom have already arrived.

An experienced pastoral teacher works with students individually to create a suitable program and assess their level of English.

“What I think we’re aware of is kind of a continuing sense of them going through the trauma of the destruction of their home country, but also of so many people they left behind and d ‘friends,’ he said.

“Every day they navigate what we see on the news or hear on the radio,” he said.

Mr Marshall-Taylor said visas were not being processed quickly enough, with a foster parent who was a trained legal professional spending five to six hours filling out forms with the Ukrainian mother and daughter she was supporting .

“It was incredibly difficult to fill out the forms and then there was a huge disconnect for almost everyone I think and that kind of vacuum of uncertainty… we knew we had wonderful families, we had places at the school, we had a uniform and everything was ready, we felt that we could offer good opportunities, but there was just this expectation.

A silver lining to this, he said, was that the pupils had engaged in the democratic process by writing to their local MP to inquire about the status of visas.

Samantha Price, Principal of Benenden School and President of the Association of Girls’ Schools, said her school had opened a boarding school for a student from Ukraine this term, so she could start studying for her A-levels in science. in September, while two days of school places were offered to other refugee pupils.

She added that for the student who would be interned, “it’s complex and it’s really frustrating”.

“She is going to travel alone and her mother managed to get her out of Ukraine – they live in Odessa. But her visa has not been issued…because she is going to be a minor traveling alone and there is a traffic problem.

The girl can no longer stay with her mother in Moldova, so she can travel with her mother to Odessa or the UK, but at the moment the Ministry of Internal Affairs does not grant 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 needs to be a better system if the guardians here through an expected program have been recognised, there needs to be a way for that these students can fly without having to go through this level of delay and uncertainty”.

Ms Price said that if a tutor has had ban checks, pupils should be able to fly on their own to speed up the visa process.

She said her school offered “tailor-made” support for pupils – a pupil who has limited English will be able to gain qualifications in Russian as well as study biology and English as an additional language.

“It’s also the fact that these students come from a war zone and make sure they have the right levels of pastoral care, with trauma counseling etc.”

The boarding school comrades chose to “equip” her dormitory to welcome her, with duvet covers, cushions, garlands and plants “so that when she arrives she has a happy dormitory to go to”, while donor parents have offered to cover the cost of travel or extracurricular activities for students.

Tim Firth, principal of Wrekin College, said his school had a connection to the country, as there were four Ukrainian students on the list before the dispute, and he had been in contact with them to ensure that they had not returned to Ukraine over the holidays.

The Headmasters’ Conference, a group of leading private British schools, wrote to Wrekin asking if they could help and he offered free places to refugee pupils fleeing the conflict.

A girl is due to start sixth grade in September and two younger pupils in key third stage have already started school, as they are linked to an Anglo-Ukrainian family at school.

“Apart from being a privilege and worth helping, Ukrainian students are often very impressive,” he said, adding that “their English is great.”

“So it’s about them to help us and uplift our community,” he said.

The school’s Wrekin International group held a parade in honor of Ukraine and Mr Firth said the students had their “eyes opened” to the realities of the conflict.

“If you’re sitting next to someone telling you on the way to Mass what happened to them, that’s a better lesson than most of us get while we’re in school…You really have your eyes peeled, and this kind of soft education happens all the time, and that’s PSHE, without being pompous, at its best.

Mr Firth said he was using his school’s foundation, which raises funds for scholarships, to provide free places, but it would be helpful if the government funded places, especially in boarding schools.

“Would we like to do more? My God, yes. Does money stop us from doing it? To a large extent, it is. So it would be great if the government funded places in really good schools like Wrekin, yes.

“Boarding schools in particular, they can take children and it’s not ridiculous to think that they could take children of Ukrainian parents still there,” he said.

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