In this blog, the Hampshire EMTAS Teacher Team considers what best practice might look like in relation to catering for the needs of refugee children on roll in Hampshire Schools.
In recent months, Hampshire has hosted a number of refugee families from Afghanistan, some of whom will remain in the county permanently whilst others will eventually be found a permanent home elsewhere. The children of these refugee families are starting to be taken onto roll at schools across the county, and this has raised a number of questions as colleagues have sought advice on how best to streamline support at this vital point in the children’s lives.
First and foremost, at the point of referral to EMTAS it has become apparent that not everyone is confident when it comes to telling the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee. To cut to the chase, the term refugee is widely used to describe displaced people all over the world but legally in the UK a person is a refugee only when the Home Office has accepted their asylum claim. While a person is waiting for a decision on their claim, he or she is called an asylum seeker. Some asylum seekers will later become refugees if their claims for asylum are successful.
The recently-arrived Afghan refugee children are here with their families and because of this they benefit from greater continuity in terms of support from their primary care-givers. Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC), on the other hand, are minors who are here on their own and therefore don’t have the support of their close families. UASC are accommodated in the care system in the UK but their status in the longer term remains in question. They will be claiming asylum, which – if they are successful – will give them indefinite leave to remain and refugee status. This will give them the right to live permanently in the UK and to pursue higher education and/or work in the UK. Check the EMTAS guidance for more detail on this point.
Moving on to talk about refugees, in many ways the needs of
refugee children are very similar to those of any other international new
arrival, hence staff in schools should, in the main, adopt the same EAL good
practice with these children as they would any others. There are, however, some additional things to
bear in mind.
Refugee children (as well as UASC) may have had to leave their country of origin suddenly, bringing with them very few of their personal belongings and leaving much behind. Because of this, some may experience a greater sense of loss than children whose move to the UK was undertaken in a more planned way. Some refugee children will have left behind members of their extended families as well as friends, favourite toys and pets (where keeping pets is part of their culture), and may be concerned for their safety or not know their whereabouts or even if they are alive. This can be compounded by having little opportunity to communicate with them to check if they’re OK. Older children are likely to be more aware of and affected by this than younger ones, and their awareness may be heightened by conversations within their household as parents talk about and begin to process the events that brought them here.
Some refugee children will have experienced unplanned interruptions to their education, especially those who have spent time in refugee camps en route to the UK or those who have travelled with their families through various countries. Lack of facilities might mean that some have missed opportunities to keep up with their learning, hence there may be gaps. The longer the gap, the more they will have missed – hardly rocket science, but something to bear in mind when thinking about reasons why a child’s reading and writing skills may not be as secure as would normally be expected. The advice with this would be to clarify each child’s education history with parents and then to consider what arrangements might be put in place to help plug any gaps – without causing them to miss even more eg through ill-timed/too many withdrawal interventions (see EMTAS Position Statement on Withdrawal Provision for learners of EAL).
For most refugee children, routine really helps. They benefit from knowing what each school day will hold, so things like visual timetables are helpful. They also benefit from being supported to quickly develop a sense of belonging in their new school. Use buddies – including trained Young Interpreters – to support them as they adjust to their new surroundings. Bear in mind that the less-structured times such as break and lunch times can be more difficult for a newly-arrived refugee child, so check that they are being included and are joining in with play with other children. Teachers may find it helpful to teach some playground games in the relative safety and calm of the classroom, with input and support from other children in their class, with the idea that these games can then transfer to the outside areas.
Support from their peers will be key to the induction and integration of a newly-arrived refugee child. Sit them with peers who can be good learning, behaviour and language role models. Try to match them with peers who are of similar cognitive ability. Remember to reward all children involved with praise where things have gone well eg if they have shown the new arrival their book or repeated an instruction or the new arrival has accepted support from a peer or tried to involve themselves in a task or whatever. With younger learners, consider using a Persona Doll to explore ways of supporting the new arrival with your class.
When it comes to accessing the curriculum, remember the benefits of using first language both to aid access and engagement and to give the child a sense of the value of the L1 skills they bring with them. Use of L1 can be a great way of involving parents too, so make sure you think of ways they can support – perhaps helping their child look up key words or using Wikipedia in other languages to research a topic. If you have a literate child in your class, encourage them to write in L1 and explore how translation tools can be used to build a dialogue with the child and give them the skills to communicate their ideas with others in accessible ways. Many translation tools have an audio component too, so even children who can’t read very well in L1 can benefit from their use in the classroom. For more information about translation tools, see ‘Use of ICT’ on the EMTAS Moodle.
The biggest issues often relate not to language barriers but to culture; there are lots of things we take for granted to be commonly understood, shared experiences which for refugee children will be new, alien. These can include experiences of teaching and learning, for instance a didactic approach wherein the teacher conveys knowledge to the empty vessels that are their charges may have been the norm in country of origin. People whose schooling embodied this sort of approach may find learning through play or learning through engaging in dialogue with others very ‘foreign’; uncomfortably new territory they need to negotiate without any prior experience on which to base their understanding or response.
Refugee children from Afghanistan will almost invariably be Muslim and this in itself raises some issues that schools will need to address. For some children, there will be issues with school uniform, with others, schools may need to rethink key texts they are using in class eg ‘The Three Little Pigs’ with younger learners or ‘Lord of the Flies’ with children in secondary phase may be problematic. For guidance on these and other issues to do with having Muslim children on roll in your school, see the comprehensive guidance from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), posted in an open access course on the EMTAS Moodle here.
So to some final advice on how to negotiate this unfamiliar terrain. For one, try to remember always that refugee children’s responses may at first seem strange or oppositional or even rude. This sort of thing is likely to be indicative of a cultural barrier that needs to be overcome with both parties open to moving their respective positions. To get the best results, try to be the party that is receptive to difference and willing to make the most moves to understand and accommodate. If issues arise and you’re not sure what to do, EMTAS is here to support so do get in touch with us.
By phone 03707 794222
By email firstname.lastname@example.org
Find out more:
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