Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Refugee and asylum seeking children and young people in England, like other new arrivals, are a very diverse group.

Some may arrive in the UK with one or both parents, or they may arrive in the care of older siblings, relatives or customary care givers. Some children may arrive alone as unaccompanied minors. Some, but not all, will have experienced conflict and other traumatic experiences.

Asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants: What is the difference?

  • An asylum seeker is a person who has fled from their home country in search of safety and who has applied for political asylum in another country
  • An unaccompanied asylum seeker is a child who arrives aged under 18 without an adult who is responsible for them; children can therefore be asylum seekers in their own right
  • A refugee is a person whose application for asylum has been accepted and who has been granted refugee status in the UK. Refugees have often fled their home country and are unable to return there owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, sexuality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
  • An economic migrant is different from a refugee. Economic migrants have chosen to leave their country for work or educational purposes and have not necessarily had the traumatic experiences that some refugees may have faced.

Rights and entitlements of asylum seekers and refugees in England

Education

Asylum seeker and refugee pupils aged 5-18 have exactly the same entitlement to full-time education or training as other pupils in England and economic migrants. This rule applies equally across local authority schools, academies and free schools.

Claiming asylum

The following organisations can provide a wealth of information on claiming asylum:

Providing a welcome for asylum seeking and refugee pupils

Advice on this website and the further resources signposted should provide the confidence and knowledge needed to welcome asylum seeking and refugee pupils into school. In particular, please visit the New Arrivals page which provides general advice for international new arrivals, with additional information available for asylum seeking and refugee pupils specifically.

Build staff knowledge

  • Brief all staff with clear, factual information and guidance before the refugee pupil starts school. Find out as much information as possible about the reasons the refugee family may be fleeing and about the country of origin, languages spoken and education systems experienced.

Review systems, policies and messages within the school

  • Establish effective systems for sharing key pupil information within the school, as well as between school and home, taking into account that parents may not speak, read or write English yet; make sure that all communications are written in clear simple English
  • Ensure the New Arrivals Induction Policy is up to date and includes specific statements about refugee and asylum seeking pupils. Evaluate all school policies to check they are inclusive of asylum seeking and refugee pupils, starting with the policies on inclusion, equality, anti-racism, bullying and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
  • Some schools with high numbers of pupils may need to draw up a specific asylum seeking and refugee policy as well as add related sections to other policies. Consideration should be given to writing an EAL or language policy for the school if it does not already exist
  • Use the school website, newsletter and any other vehicles to communicate to all readers that the school welcomes all children and values the contributions they can make. Give a clear message that the school operates an inclusive school environment. Pupils should be prepared, through assemblies or PSHE work, and through engagement in national annual events, e.g. Refugee Week (held in June), and local refugee community events too.

Explore help available

  • Find out about any support available locally for refugees and their families from charities, community groups and voluntary agencies.

Admission and induction arrangements for asylum seeking and refugee pupils

Admission and induction arrangements for asylum seeking and refugee pupils should be in line with the school’s New Arrivals Induction Policy for all new pupils - please see the New Arrivals page. However, due to the specific experiences which refugee and asylum seeking pupils and families are likely to bring with them, it is recommended that particular attention is paid to the following actions.

Admissions meeting

  • Arrange for a professional, independent interpreter to assist in the admissions meeting, ensure that they understand the family’s context, including being mindful of the local context in the country of origin. The ethnicity/dialect of the interpreter should be the same as that of the family where possible and not from an ethnicity in current conflict in the country of origin.
  • If the new pupil is an unaccompanied minor, invite the ‘designated teacher’ for looked-after children to the admissions meeting and fully involve them in any subsequent meetings
  • Aim to establish an ethos of trust and partnership from this first meeting. Explain why questions are being asked, as many parents of asylum seeking or refugee pupils may have prior experience of interrogation by officials.
  • Clarify any entitlement to uniform grants, Free School Meals, transport etc. and ensure the family are aware that the child is entitled to a free ear, sight and hearing test. The family can be asked if they receive benefits or asylum support vouchers.
  • Request proof of date of birth which is required by the school. Passports or immigration documents are not required; if necessary, the Home Office will ‘age’ a child.
  • Share information about any local agencies and community organisations that help asylum seeking and refugee children and families

Induction programme

Refugee and asylum seeking pupils will need a robust induction programme in order to thrive; the Foundation recommends the PAWS model which can found on the New Arrivals page.

Curriculum access and provision

Every child under 18 has an entitlement to access education or training, though often asylum seeking and refugee children have had an interrupted education. Some will have never attended formal education or have limited literacy in their first language, so the school might need to take steps to make the mainstream curriculum accessible for them. Students who are not literate in their first language need rapid intervention to learn to read and write in English, especially at secondary school; please see the ‘Learners with Limited First Language Literacy’ page for further information.

A new refugee or asylum seeking child is likely to need EAL assessment and support; please see the ‘How do I Assess an EAL Learner’ page. Any materials used to support language and literacy development need to be age-appropriate for pupils. When not in time-limited induction lessons, the refugee or asylum seeking child should join mainstream lessons and should not be placed in SEND classes or special provision for excluded pupils. Initial placement in a low ability set should be avoided, unless the learner has identified learning difficulties, as these learners tend to do better when working with their intellectual peers, and those who can provide good linguistic and behavioural models.

Post 16, rules around eligibility and fee remission for asylum seekers and refugees are complex and subject to frequent change. An asylum seeking or refugee pupil may require assistance accessing the most up-to-date information.

Pastoral care

Asylum seeking and refugee children and young people are a very vulnerable group, who may experience emotional or mental health problems, discrimination and racism. Pastorally, the school’s first aim is to provide a safe and supportive environment for a refugee or asylum seeking child, both physically and emotionally.

Many refugees have come from unstable social situations and may have high levels of anxiety or emotional distress as a result of the trauma of leaving their home country and their initial experiences of the host country.

Some asylum seeking and refugee children may exhibit behaviour which can be related to their recent experiences. These behaviours can be disruptive, emotional, social or learning-related. Such behaviours are equally associated with SEND and mirror other social, emotional and mental health difficulties, making it difficult to determine the cause and provide the right support. It is important to make contact with the right agency locally to seek support in these situations.

Asylum seeking and refugee children can experience racism, bullying and discrimination within and outside school. Ensure that pupils and staff are clear that this is unacceptable and that they must report any incidents. Make it clear what constitutes unacceptable behaviour.

Be alert to the needs of school staff, who may not be skilled and knowledgeable in meeting the needs of asylum seeking and refugee pupils. Be ready for questions and reply honestly. Do not be afraid to say ‘I don’t know but let’s find out’. Further sources of information as well as training and development routes can be found on this website.

Working with parents and the community

Parents of refugee or asylum seeking children may have particular support needs. These are some common areas requiring help and guidance:

  • The English language
  • Understanding the school system
  • Dealing with officialdom
  • Social isolation

Further advice and guidance is available on the Parental Involvement page.

What can schools do?

  • Make asylum seeking and refugee pupils feel that they have a real contribution to make to school life
  • Be approachable, especially reception staff in the school office
  • Treat refugee parents’ questions, views and concerns seriously and with respect
  • Establish strong links with agencies or other groups that work locally with refugees

Further resources

Links to websites which provide factual information and advice. on asylum seekers and refugees:

  • The Refugee Council website
  • Guidance on welcoming, admission, induction and peer support for asylum seeking and refugee children from NALDIC
  • A detailed explanation of the asylum seeking process can be found at Asylum Aid
  • Foundation House is an Australian website which details a set of strategies for dealing with some of the common behaviours of refugee children in the classroom
  • South East Grid for Learning (SEGfL) provide a free online tool which can be used by schools to support the induction of newly arrived pupils. It is currently translated into 17 languages.

Links to websites with teaching resources:

  • BBC Schools have produced a series of five short animated films describing the experiences of five asylum seeking children: Seeking refuge
  • New Arrivals Excellence Programme: Guidance and resources for meeting the needs of new arrivals in Primary and Secondary schools (2007 DCSF)
  • Channel 4’s Two Billion Miles interactive video, shares stories of refugee and migrant journeys with teaching resources
  • A Guardian article with links to pupil resources for KS1-5
  • An Oxfam site which includes presentations and lesson plans
  • Schools of Sanctuary celebrate good practice in schools that welcome asylum seeking and refugee families into their community and foster a culture of inclusion for all. Information about becoming a school of sanctuary and resources to use with pupils.