Ukraine-Russia: Ukrainian refugee children struggling to find places in over-subscribed city schools

Ukrainian refugee children are struggling to get local school places for next year in Scottish council areas, with some told to travel miles to enrol refugee pupils.

One mother, Iryna, told how her daughter, Varvara, has been unable to secure a school place near to where she lives with her host in Newcraighall for her to start P1 in August. After contacting five local schools which were full, she has been given a place nearly three miles away at Prestonfield Primary School, which she says will take her 40 minutes to travel to on the bus.

MSPs have said they have been contacted by constituents in similar situations. Initial intake limits are set based on children being in a catchment area by the end of February and councils are supposed to keep some places free for people who move into the catchment during the year. But many schools, particularly in Edinburgh, are over subscribed.

Iryna, who did not want to give her full name, is unable to apply for a place for Varvara at any schools in nearby Musselburgh as it is located in the East Lothian council area and funding from the UK Government to help local authorities host refugees is being paid to Edinburgh.

Refugee families from Ukraine are struggling to find school places in Scotland in some areas. Picture: PA

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Iryna, who worked as a teacher in Ukraine, said: “I don’t want her to go to that school, because it is too far away, it would be 40 minutes by bus. At the moment, going to the nursery, I know my daughter is tired and she will be even more tired after school.”

She added: “We are not alone in this situation. I go to the Ukrainian Club every week and I meet a lot of people there who are in the same situation.”

One official told Iryna she needed to have applied for a place by February to get one in her local school. However, the initial invasion of Ukraine did not take place until February 24 and the Homes for Ukraine visa scheme did not open until weeks after that.

Iryna said: "We didn’t plan then to come here, it is only because of the war that we are here. We didn’t think about anything like this before [the application date].”

She said she had asked the nursery her daughter attends if she could stay on an extra year to give her time to settle in with children she was familiar with, but they had told her she needed to go to school once she turned five.

MSP Sarah Boyack said she had been contacted by constituents facing problems in finding spaces for their children in local schools.

She said: “It’s not just the time it takes to get your child to school [in situations where the local school is full], but the cost. The Scottish Government has given local authorities some financial support, but they need to understand that in key local authorities – who have been doing a great job in welcoming refugees from Ukraine – there is already an issue with access to schools and other services.”

Joan Griffiths, education, children and families convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “Obviously with so many people coming to the city, the scale of support we need to offer is huge from accommodation, health and social care, transport to financial support. This also applies to places in our schools, with many already at full capacity. However, we’re doing everything we can to find places for families close to where they are staying.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We know that parents who have arrived from Ukraine will be anxious to ensure that their children are enrolled in school.

“The Scottish Government continues to work urgently with local authorities and other partners to ensure that all displaced Ukrainians have the support they need, including access to education.”

He added: “Local authority resettlement teams are working to support parents to enrol their children in school. The Scottish Refugee Council is also providing support on enrolment to parents.”

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