Sociological research on the presence and yet invisibility of asylum-seeking and refugee pupils in the educational system in the UK is noticeably absent. This article offers insights into the ways in which the presence and the needs of such pupils are conceptualised by local authorities and schools. It draws on the results of a survey of 58 English local authorities and qualitative data from three case studies of LEAs and a sample of their schools. The ethical position adopted by officials and teachers in these three sites offers a compassionate model of social inclusion based on a holistic approach to the asylum-seeking and refugee child. It contrasts with the restrictive and often hostile government stance on immigration, asylum and integration.