18th May is the final deadline to opt your child out of the national school census or to retract previously submitted data. See the links below this article to find out more.
By Ijeoma Datha-Moore @IjeMoore
Ijeoma Datha-Moore came to the UK from Nigeria aged 2 and lives in Dagenham. She is operations assistant at the charity Just for Kids Law, a leading Let us Learn campaigner and a youth rights trainer for Coram Legal Centre. Her ambition is to be a child psychologist.
I was getting ready for school when four immigration officers burst into our house. They put me in the back of a van and drove me along the same streets I walked every morning to school. I was held in immigration detention for six weeks. I was fifteen years old then and it would be years before I discovered I had been held unlawfully.
When I went back to school six weeks later, I had to tell my teachers and friends where I had been. Until then, none of them knew about the problems my family had with our immigration status. School had been a sanctuary for me; it was where I could escape the stress of seeing my mum always trying to work out how to get our papers sorted.
At school I didn’t feel different from anyone else. No one asked – or cared – about my immigration background. I was a confident and active student – an ambassador; on the school debating team; and a member of the school council. I did well in my GCSEs. When I finally did have to tell everyone about my situation, they already knew me as Ijeoma, so didn’t treat me any differently.
If the school census had been in place then, I would have had no chance to show people what I could do. I’d have kept my head down and not wanted to draw attention to myself.
I would have been worried about being judged on my immigration status – something I had no control over – rather than on what I could achieve. I wouldn’t have dared confide in anyone about being detained, but would have had to make up a story.
We finally got our status sorted after 7 years of waiting. Even then it wasn’t smooth sailing. I had to have a separate case from that of my mum and brother, and received my status after the Tigere case in 2015.
I am now 22. I’d like to go to university to study psychology, but won’t qualify for a student loan for another 18 months. Since October 2016, I have been working at the charity Just for Kids Law as an operations assistant, and I’m really involved in its Let us Learn campaign. In 2016, I stood up in front of more than 6,000 people at the London Mayoral hustings and spoke about my experiences as an undocumented young Londoner. I wasn’t even that nervous. I am proud of myself and want to contribute to the country where I have lived since I was two years old.
I would never have developed the confidence to do those things if I’d spent my school years worrying about being singled out, or scared that anything I told my teachers might be passed to the Home Office.
Children are not to blame for their immigration status. Schools need to protect and nurture their pupils. They are there to act in the best interests of all their students, and to encourage their growth – not to single out some children because of their backgrounds and potentially lead the Home Office to their door.
The support I had from my school helped me cope with my experience of detention and to get on with my life. No school should ever be the cause of something so traumatic happening to one of their students.
As someone whose life could have been changed out of all recognition by the school census, I urge all parents to think about the impact this damaging and divisive policy will have on children like me and to support the boycott.
Gracie Mae Bradley of Against Borders for Children says: “this is the last census for 2016-17 so 18th May is the deadline for our last chance to ruin this risky and divisive data collection. In June the government will publish a report based on the school census, which may form the basis of future policy-making. There has already been uproar at Theresa May’s proposals in 2015, which would have involved checking passports in schools and de-prioritising school places for children with undocumented parents. If enough people opt out in May, the data becomes unusable – and you can do that even if you gave your child’s nationality and country of birth earlier in the year.””
Click here to access the form to opt out of the census for your child or delete previously submitted data
Click here to find out more about the school census boycott and the movement against borders for children
Featured image: Ijeoma Datha-Moore