Theresa May wanted children of parents unlawfully in the UK to be dropped to the bottom of lists for school places, according to reports of leaked Cabinet Office letters.
As Home Secretary, May’s department suggested to the Department for Education that schools could withdraw children’s places if their families did not have the right to remain in the UK, in contravention of current laws, according to documents leaked to the BBC.
The Home Office also wanted schools to carry out immigration checks by asking to see passports before accepting new pupils.
Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, said she was “deeply concerned” about the policy proposal. “It’s a terrible idea. Denying innocent children the right to an education because of the circumstances of their parents is disgusting,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“It’s not a British value that we have. It just shows that, rather than deal with the problems in her own department, Theresa May was trying to offload the failings of her department on to innocent children, trying to bring our teachers into border control. We know immigration is in a mess and it is under Theresa May’s watch.”
Liberal Democrat Education spokesman John Pugh dismissed it as “a grubby little idea”.
Current laws mean all under-16s have the right to a school place, even if their parents entered the country illegally.
Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary at the time, is understood to have blocked the move, writing to the then Prime Minister David Cameron with “profound concerns”.
“I have concerns about the practical and presentational issues of applying our strong position on illegal migrants to the emotive issue of children’s education,” the leaked letter read.
“These cover deprioritising illegal migrants in the schools admissions process, and carrying out immigration checks through schools.”
Morgan is reported to have had concerns that the process would delay schools from being able to confirm places for British and legal migrants’ children in good time before the start of the school year and would be “jeopardising our increasingly important focus on tackling both segregation and extremism, and with consequent impacts on the children of British nationals who attend the schools”.
A government spokesman said he would not comment on leaked documents. He said: “It is only right that any government looks at a range of options when considering policy options, but ultimately it is for ministers to decide which policies are taken forward.
We are building a system that works in the best interests of the British people and ensures that only those with a right to be in the UK can live and work here.”
Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of the schools watchdog Ofsted, said he believed that schools should not be used as a border control by the Home Office. Speaking on the Today programme, he said: “I’m amazed and shocked by it. Schools should not be used for border control.”