Blog: How to build sustainable provision in schools for children who are refugees

In this blog, Glynis Lloyd, provides a summary of a recent webinar which launched The Bell Foundation’s new guidance on building sustainable provision in schools for children who are refugees.

Key sections in this article:

The war in Ukraine sparked the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War Two, with more than eight million people forced to flee their homes. This, alongside other global events, has seen a growing number of refugees welcomed across the UK, from locations including Afghanistan, Syria, Hong Kong, and Ukraine.

Schools are a fundamental part of the infrastructure that provides support and stability to refugee children and their families, but for many schools, welcoming refugees is new and unfamiliar territory.

In response, The Bell Foundation brought together leading refugee education experts and key stakeholders and developed guidance for schools on delivering a sustainable approach to welcoming refugee and asylum-seeking children.

To launch this guidance, the Foundation hosted a webinar to explore the recommendations and explain how the new guidance can support schools in putting these into practice. In this blog, we provide an overview of the webinar.

What are schools saying?

The new guidance was inspired and shaped by feedback from schools, including through our initial scoping work for the guidance.

Whilst multilingual classrooms are now the norm in the UK, some schools report that they have limited prior knowledge and experience of welcoming refugees and do not yet have the required provision and processes in place. This has created a growing need and calls for training.

We also found a lack of clarity and a sparsity of information on the funding that is available for schools, with different approaches taken regionally. For some schools, administrative barriers have created additional challenges meaning they have not applied for funding.

Whilst some of the issues identified are systemic, the guidance developed by the Foundation aims to support the building of best practice in schools that are welcoming, safe, and in which children can succeed.

What can we learn from research?

The Foundation’s work is evidence-based, and in the development of this guidance, we drew upon existing research, which provided valuable insights into the rights, needs and experiences of refugee children.

The first was a report from UNICEF (Gladwell and Chetwynd, 2018) which identifies barriers faced by refugee children to accessing, remaining, and thriving in education. The barriers include factors such as delays in obtaining school places, the impact of trauma and of dislocation, as well as bullying experienced in school. The study also outlines some of the actions that stakeholders, like national and regional government, as well as schools, can take to help overcome these barriers.

The second was the research conducted by McIntyre and Abrams (2021), which looked at good practice across the East of England. They map their findings onto the framework developed by Kohli (2011), which identifies three factors needed by children in education: safety, a sense of belonging, and opportunities for success.

The third body of research was by Evans, Schneider, and Arnot et al (2020), which provides a model for an inclusive pedagogy across four dimensions: teachers’ inclusive attitudes, academic inclusion (inclusion in mainstream learning), linguistic inclusion (such as building in bilingual support across all lessons), and social inclusion.

Across this research, clear themes emerge, namely the importance of a holistic approach, of targeted multi-agency support, and of celebrating diversity, recognising the many assets refugee children bring to their schools and their learning.

Recommendations for building sustainable provision

Guided by this wealth of evidence, the Foundation has developed seven recommendations to support schools to deliver sustainable provision for refugee and asylum-seeking children:

  1. Assess each learner holistically – refugees and asylum-seeking children are heterogenous, with each child bringing a unique set of experiences, needs and assets. It is therefore key for the support they receive to be tailored to their individual circumstances.
  2. Invest in human resources – it is key for schools to invest in the teaching staff who will be working with refugee and asylum-seeking children, ensuring they have the time, resources, and support of senior staff to do so effectively.
  3. Create a welcoming school environment – this includes the ways in which schools can convey messages of welcome and inclusivity and celebrate all the languages spoken by students.
  4. Build a holistic plan for learning and pastoral support – this will meet both the academic and wellbeing needs of students, recognising the unique experiences of each child.
  5. Support families to support their children – this refers to support around language and communication, and how the school and wider education system operates. It is key that this information is communicated in a language that the families know and understand.
  6. Access resources and support beyond your school – this links to taking a multi-agency approach, and includes building networks, accessing the funding that is available, and the recruitment and training of buddies.
  7. Invest in training for all staff – to ensure the sustainability of the support that schools put in place, it is important to invest in the learning and development of staff.

How do schools put these recommendations into practice?

To support schools in implementing these recommendations, the recommendations have been mapped onto a chronological, four-stage model, known as the PAWS model. For each stage, the guidance provides a set of actions and signposts to useful resources.

  1. Prepare – this is the stage prior to admission. At this stage, key actions include ensuring that the necessary systems and human resources are in place, developing a learner profile and planning for the first day of the new arrival/s.
  2. Alert – this is the stage before the new learners start, when key actions include ensuring necessary information is shared with staff and that arrangements are made for a buddy to support the new arrival/s.
  3. Welcome – this stage refers to the first days after the arrival of the new learners. During this stage, key actions may include preparing the school environment, ensuring staff are prepared, and arranging for a dedicated space to be provided for older new arrivals to relax, meet other learners, and access information.
  4. Support – this stage refers to the weeks after the arrival of the new learners, during which actions may include putting language support in place across the curriculum, investing in the training of staff and communicating with families.

Find out more

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