UASC may arrive at any point in the academic year, typically into the end of Key Stage 3 or into Key Stage 4. They have often experienced a difficult journey to the UK and they may face an uncertain future. What can Hampshire EMTAS offer by way of support for these young people? In this blog, Sarah Coles, Hampshire EMTAS Consultant, explores this question.
UASC present schools with a challenge when it comes to provision in that many will have gaps in their schooling with some having had no prior experience of formal education. In recent years, Hampshire schools have welcomed some UASC who have previously worked as sheep farmers in very rural settings and who have never attended school before; others have come with a more recognisable educational history though there may still be gaps in their knowledge of the different curriculum subjects studied in UK secondary schools. In most cases, an immediate issue schools need to address relates to the young person’s levels of proficiency in English.
As with other international arrivals, EMTAS undertakes Profiling for all UASC referred, either through the SLA (for maintained schools and subscribing Academies) or through sold services. Due to the complex and highly individual nature of each case referred, the profiling work is led by a Specialist Teacher Advisor working with a Bilingual Assistant or Interpreter. Recently, due to Covid restrictions, some EMTAS Profiling work has moved online and has been carried out using MS Teams. This article captures elements of the UASC profiling experience from the point of view of an EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor.
The young person in question I shall call Rebin, which means ‘path-finder’ (it’s not his real name). He arrived in the UK in the summer of 2020 from rural Iran -where he had in fact worked with his father on the family sheep farm - via Italy and then a refugee camp in France. Right in the middle of the lockdown. He had no papers – which is not unusual for UASC – and so an age assessment was carried out which placed him in Year 10 – though right at the end of Year 10 with only a few weeks to go before the summer holiday.
Rebin’s first language was identified as Kurdish Sorani. As part of Profiling, a first language assessment is always done in order to determine how the young person can use their first language to support their access to the curriculum. Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing are all included in this assessment. For Rebin, an Interpreter was used to support the assessment, which was all done using MS Teams with Rebin supported at home to engage with the process by his foster carer. It was found that Rebin could understand and speak Kurdish Sorani fairly well though because he’d not been schooled in Iran, his first language speaking and listening skills were very much about social interactions with others and not so much about academic learning.
Rebin explained that whilst he had not attended school, his mother had taught him some reading and writing at home. When this was explored, it was found that Rebin could communicate meaning in writing in Kurdish Sorani but at a fairly basic level and he did not have a well developed academic register. Another thing to note about Kurdish Sorani is that it’s written from right to left, which can present the learner with a directional difference to contend with when they start writing in English.
Rebin’s reading in Kurdish Sorani was halting and he found it difficult to access much beyond basic, simple sentences. This meant that for Rebin, providing written translations of curriculum materials would be of limited use.
Pre-Covid, the best place for a child like Rebin to begin to make new friends and learn English is at school with other pupils of a similar age. Peer mentors would be asked to help induct the new arrival, help them find their way around and make sure they are not on their own during break times. They might also accompany the new arrival to clubs and activities – Rebin was very keen on playing football, which normally would give him access to a group of peers who shared that interest.
Rebin's writing in English and Kurdish Sorani
An assessment of Rebin’s English showed that he knew a few words and phrases, enough to say ‘hello’, that he could read some very simple words, performing better where these were supported by visual cues. He could also write a few letters of the alphabet but by no means enough to communicate in writing in English; for practical purposes he would be classed as ‘new-to-English’ and he would need to be taught the basics of reading and writing for sure, most likely in withdrawal sessions as these are not things you can just pick up.
With regards access to a broad and balanced curriculum, Rebin shares the same entitlement as other students and should be given access to a range of subjects, including Maths and English. Immersion in the new language gives a student like Rebin diverse examples of contextualised language use and, after an initial settling-in period when it all sounds like a jumble of noise, he will begin to hear where sentences end, he’ll notice words and phrases being repeated and he’ll start to make sense of what he’s hearing. Once that has happened, he will begin to be able to respond to what’s said to him, gradually building up from single words to short phrases to sentences. In about two years’ time, Rebin will be able to hold a pretty fluent conversation in English, though it will take significantly longer for him to be able to write for academic purposes across a range of subjects.
Rebin will need support, and the best way of supporting him will be for subject teachers to sit him with peers of similar underlying cognitive ability and to let him follow their lead, whilst making full use of visuals when delivering content. Translation apps may have a place also – what is needed for a student like Rebin is one where there’s an audio component so he can listen to new words in English and first language, not just see a written translation. However, given what we know about Rebin’s educational history, translation apps will clearly not offer a panacea.
Thinking forward, Rebin will very soon need to be planning his post-16 pathway. During the initial profiling, he was asked about his work on the family sheep farm, in case he had liked it and an option to study animal care at a place like Sparsholt was viable. Rebin, however, said he wasn’t interested in this but didn’t really know what other options might be available. To address this issues, School could usefully plan in opportunities for Rebin to shadow/talk to students who are currently following the courses he might like to think about for himself. School could further facilitate with interpreter-supported discussions at his PEP meetings where the options can be set out for him, his views can be sought and he can ask any questions he may have.
Of course, all the while Rebin plays catch-up with his education, he is still recovering from his experiences of being trafficked to the UK, from his separation from his family and from uncertainties about his future – whether or not he will eventually be granted indefinite leave to remain. If all goes well, Rebin could, in spite of all the attendant challenges he faces, be successful in forging a new life for himself in the UK, and staff in schools have a key role to play in supporting him to work towards that end.
For advice and guidance on meeting the needs of Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children, see the EMTAS website.
EMTAS’s ‘Welcome to Hampshire’ information guide for unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) has been updated. By Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor Lisa Kalim.
Do you have unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) in
your school? If so I recommend that you
have a look here at EMTAS’s newly updated information guide for UASC and encourage your UASC to
use this useful resource, perhaps assisting them by printing a copy out for
them. This booklet was written
specifically for the young people in our schools who are UASC and aims to help
them settle into their new lives in Hampshire as smoothly as possible. It was first created over ten years ago as a
result of feedback received from UASC who had been in our school system for
several years and who shared what they wished they had known about when they
first arrived. It has been updated
regularly ever since. It seeks to provide
information on various topics that will be relevant to unaccompanied asylum
- what happens at each stage of the asylum process
- what their rights and responsibilities are
- education and schools/colleges/universities
- health care
- working in the UK
- sport and recreation
- how they can attempt to contact family and friends in their home country including those they have become separated from
- details of organisations that can provide support to them.
It has been written as simply as possible to allow those UASC who are already able to read in English sufficiently to access it independently, either in a printed version or via the online version on our website. For those who can understand English well but are not yet able to read it to the level required there is also an audio version here.
For those who are unable to access either the written or audio versions in English there are translations available in the three most commonly spoken languages by our UASC here in Hampshire – Arabic, Pashto and Farsi. These can be found here. Please check that your young person is able to read in the relevant language before providing them with this resource as some UASC may not have had the opportunity to learn to read or write in their country of origin due to difficulties with accessing education. EMTAS hopes to be able to provide audio versions of these translated booklets in the future, starting with Arabic, so keep an eye out on our website.
It is helpful if UASC can be given access to Welcome to
Hampshire as soon as possible after their arrival in Hampshire but even if they
have already been living here for several months or years it can still be
useful to them as they may have forgotten some of what they were told early on
or there may just have been too much information for them to take in all at
once at a stressful time. Welcome to Hampshire can be referred to by the young
person from time to time as needed, for example as they progress through the
asylum system and would like a reminder about what will happen next.
Reading Welcome to Hampshire can also be useful for staff
as it will give them an idea of the types of areas that are likely to be
important to their UASC and explains the asylum process simply. It also contains a section on useful contacts
which staff may also find helpful if working with UASC.
At the end of the booklet there is a form on which the
young people are invited to give feedback to EMTAS about Welcome to
Hampshire. This feedback is then used to
update future versions to ensure that it stays relevant and includes
information on everything that the young people feel they need. I would appreciate it if you could encourage
any UASC in your school who use the booklet in whatever format to complete it,
with assistance from a member of your school staff if needed. The young person can write in any language
they like, or their views could be scribed for them. Responses can either be posted to EMTAS’s office
in Basingstoke (address is included in Welcome to Hampshire) or sent via email
I’ll end with a quote from a 16 year old UASC from Iran who
helpfully provided us with the following feedback:
‘When I first came here, I didn’t know where I should live
or what I would do. This little book
helped me to find out what I needed to know.’
Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor Lisa Kalim separates fact from fiction
If you read and believe certain tabloid newspapers you may well have reached the conclusion that UK schools are struggling with a large influx of asylum-seeking children and young people. However, this view is not supported by the most recent data released by the Home Office in February 20181. These give the details of all asylum applications made by children in 2017 and compare the data with the previous four years. Applications from Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) and those that arrived in the UK with an asylum seeking relative/guardian are included in the data so all children who were seeking asylum during this period have been considered.
How many asylum seeking children started at British schools in 2017?
Probably far fewer than you think. In 2017 a total of 2,206 children applied for asylum in their own right, down 33% from the previous year. Of these, 71% were aged 16-17, 22% were aged 14-15 and 4% were aged under 14 with a further 3% of unknown age. All are entitled to a school or college place. An additional 2,774 applied as dependents of adult asylum seekers, making a total of 4,980 children. Some of the latter were under the age of 5 years at the time of their relative/guardian’s application and so would not all need a school place straight away. When you consider that there were 8,669,085 pupils in UK schools in 2017 (DfE, 2017)2 but only 4,980 of these were newly arrived asylum seekers, it would seem clear that schools are not being swamped by asylum seekers. How can they be when one year’s worth of newly arrived asylum seeking children make up less than 0.05% of the total school population?
But don’t some areas get more than their fair share of asylum seeking pupils?
The UK operates a policy of dispersal for asylum seekers to avoid particular areas receiving much larger numbers than others. This has been in place since 2000 for adult asylum seekers and their families and whilst it is not a perfect system (it has had criticism for removing new arrivals from their extended family in the UK, for example) it has meant that any particular area should not receive more than one asylum seeker per 200 of the settled population and therefore no area should feel ‘swamped’.
For UASC, a new scheme called the National Transfer Scheme has been in place since 2016. Similarly, it limits the numbers of UASC for whom any particular Local Authority is responsible to 0.07% of its total child population. Again, this should mean that no single area should receive a larger number than it is able to manage.
Didn’t the UK take in lots of children when the Calais Jungle closed?
Between 1st October 2016 and 15th July 2017 only 769 children were permitted to move to the UK from the camps in Calais. There were 227 children from Afghanistan, 211 from Sudan, 208 from Eritrea and 89 from Ethiopia. The rest came from a variety of countries, with fewer than 10 children from each. Nowhere near enough to swamp UK schools.
Where have the rest of the children come from?
Sudan is now the country of origin for the largest number of UASC. 89% of all applications in 2017 were from the following 9 countries: Sudan (337), Eritrea (320), Vietnam (268), Albania (250), Iraq (248), Iran (213), Afghanistan (210), Ethiopia (74) and Syria (41). 89% of these children were male. For female UASC Vietnam is the most common country of origin.
For children arriving with a relative or guardian, the countries of origin are similar but with the addition of Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. Numbers from Sudan and Vietnam have increased significantly since 2016, whereas numbers from Iran and Afghanistan have decreased. In contrast to UASC, around 66% of children that arrived with a relative or guardian are female.
How many children are granted refugee status and allowed to stay in the UK?
1,998 initial decisions relating to UASC were made in 2017. Of these 1,154 (58%) were granted refugee status or another form of protection, and an additional 378 (19%) were granted of temporary leave (UASC leave). A further 23% of UASC applicants were refused. This will include those from countries where it is safe to return children to their families, as well as applicants who were determined to be over 18 following an age assessment.
For children with a parent or guardian their decisions are linked to their adult applicant’s. So, if their parent or guardian is granted refugee status, the children are too. In 2017, 68% of asylum applications (excluding UASC) were refused. Only 28% were successful and an additional 4% were granted other types of leave. The numbers being granted refugee status are the lowest that they have been in the last 5 years. The numbers of refusals increased in 2017 compared to previous years. Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Nigeria have well above average refusal rates, whereas children from Iran, Eritrea, Sudan and Syria are most likely to be granted refugee status. Those refused can choose to appeal the decision. In 2017 only 35% of appeals were allowed, while 60% were dismissed. This means that a large proportion of the asylum seeking children arriving in our schools will not be permitted to remain in the long term.
So, are our schools being swamped with asylum seekers or not?
Based on the facts, I would say definitely not but you make up your own mind. Some schools may have more asylum seekers than others but this does not mean that they are swamped. The numbers arriving overall are falling.
1 Refugee Council (February 2018) Quarterly asylum statistics [online]
2 Department for Education (June 2017) Schools, pupils and their characteristics: January 2017 [online] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/650547/SFR28_2017_Main_Text.pdf