Be a Safe Haven at the End of a Long Journey

By Francis-Pester, Dawn | Times Educational Supplement, July 25, 2014 | Go to article overview

Be a Safe Haven at the End of a Long Journey


Francis-Pester, Dawn, Times Educational Supplement


Children arriving from troubled countries may feel overwhelmed and lost, but schools can play a vital role in helping them to settle

Some arrive as refugees of war. Others migrate as a result of social or political persecution. A few will never tell you why they left their home country; if they're young, they may not know. Some 20,000 asylum seekers come to the UK every year and schools have a crucial role to play in helping the young people among them to adjust.

This is not easy. There is huge diversity within the refugee community, but some will have experienced trauma that will affect their learning, emotional health and support systems.

Other potential complications exist. Children from the same country may not share the same ethnicity or language, and may have very different religions or politics. In some countries, children will have received little education. Some may not be literate in their own language, or know how to hold a pen. Others may have highly educated parents who previously had a high social status and whose life here is a stark contrast.

Families also often experience problems with finance and housing, and can find themselves living in poor-quality homes where there is little peace for sleep, let alone homework. Racism is a common problem, with many schools reporting that refugees are even bullied by people of their own nationality who have been in the UK for longer.

"For many refugee children, education is the best part of their life," says Lucy Rix, project coordinator at Love To Learn, which supports refugee children in schools. "They may have lost everything and are perhaps living in precarious conditions, even in foster homes, but education represents an important life chance."

Despite best intentions, parents can feel reluctant to communicate with teachers, either because of language barriers or because they don't feel it is their place. Love To Learn worked with one mother who wrongly assumed that her daughter was doing well at school simply because she moved up a class each year.

Follow this best-practice guide to ensure that refugee families receive the support they need.

First impressions count

A welcoming approach is crucial and this starts at the school reception desk, where parents should feel that they are being listened to and not hurried. …

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