Blog: Welcoming Refugee Children: Advice and Guidance for Schools 2

This is the second blog post in a series of three that summarises a panel webinar hosted by The Bell Foundation on the topic of Welcoming Refugee Children.

This is the second blog post in a series of three that summarises a panel webinar hosted by The Bell Foundation on the topic of Welcoming Refugee Children. The panellists were three experts in refugee education who gave practical advice and guidance to schools to help ensure a smooth induction period for newly arrived pupils from Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Ukraine. If you have not read the first blogpost in the series, you might want to start by reading it here before you read this one.

This blog post focuses on the second presentation, led by Jane Duffe, Manager of Nottingham Education Sanctuary Team (NEST). Jane showcased a specialist educational setting for newly arrived asylum seekers and refugees aged 15-19, many of whom are new to English, have no previous formal educational experience and limited literacy in their first language, and are at safeguarding risk due to lack of availability of provision. Jane began by explaining that NEST started out of the need to provide a strong educational forum for young arrivals who were struggling to access education. These young people ranged from unaccompanied minors who were not in education, employment or training (NEET) for long periods of time, those who were reunited with their families, and those who come with a very strong academic background and already have a proficient level of English and are highly ambitious. A flexible ‘mini school’ was designed to meet these young persons’ extremely diverse educational, mental health and social needs while accommodating rolling enrolment - i.e. new students arriving at any point during the academic year and not just on a fixed date at the start of the academic year.

Jane briefly explained the research underpinning the design of the solutions created by the NEST team. She mentioned Professor Joanna McIntyre's work, particularly her recent book Refugee Education (see references below), and Professor Ravi KS Kohli’s research as sources of inspiration for their design of NEST's curriculum.

Jane highlighted that the word NEST is used from the start as a metaphor to convey to their students the ethos and environment that the team want to create and instil, that nest images are used around the building, and that tutor groups are called after migrating birds (ospreys, swallows and swifts). Alongside these images, the key themes of safety, protection, nurture, family, fragility, growth, learning and eventually flying the nest, hopefully to return as visitors, are all evoked and frequently revisited with learners.

Jane briefly referred to Prof. Kohli’s three-part model for Resettlement Processes of Safety, Belonging and Success as three key strands which informed the recruitment of staff who shared NEST’s vision and ethos, and upon which NEST built their provision. These three strands were used to structure the remainder of her presentation:

1) Ensuring Safety

Jane explained that safety needs are in the forefront of the NEST team’s thoughts, particularly as some of their learners have been trafficked. She gave three examples of ways in which NEST provision ensures safety for their students:

Promoting emotional wellbeing/mental health

NEST provides an in-house one-to-one and group counselling service once a week called Space to Talk. NEST’s Personal and Social Education (PSE) curriculum is introduced early, has a strong focus on emotional wellbeing, and is part of the qualification that students take on PSE.

Also, as part of their Enrichment programme, NEST ensures that students have the opportunity to take part in music, drama, sport and other activities that are beneficial for both their mental health and their physical wellbeing.


Jane stressed that both food and faith are very important for young asylum seekers and refugees. Therefore, NEST ensures that they meet their learners’ needs in these two areas. Breakfast is laid on each morning to make sure that their basic physical needs are met, as some are living in challenging circumstances in terms of poverty.

Specialist partners, volunteers and Advisory Group

Specialists in their field make up an Advisory Group which functions like a governing body of key partners, and are part of the wider team at NEST, supporting and giving advice to teaching staff. Among this group there are professionals with legal, social care, mental health backgrounds, as well as accommodation providers.

2) Ensuring Belonging

Jane highlighted three specific examples of how NEST creates and maintains a sense of belonging:

Student voice

For NEST the ability for their learners to give their opinions is crucial. Ways in which they are empowered to do so include involving students in teacher recruitment, asking them to build up a learner journey (a portfolio that synthesises the time they spend at NEST and allows them to evaluate the activities and the curriculum, and give feedback), and completing exit questionnaires at transition points at the end of the year. Jane also emphasised that students are treated like the adults they are, and that important initiatives and events are discussed with them. In addition, NEST operates an open-door policy which means that learners can bring issues to the manager’s attention.

Navigating their new home

The students are often off-site taking part in activities which involve exploring the facilities that are available, such as galleries, museums, sporting venues, etc., so that they can start to feel that Nottingham is their new home.

Global and anti-racist curriculum (GARP)

In order to build on the skills and experience that learners bring, NEST attempts to enter them for Modern Foreign Languages GCSE exams, and to explore topics from the perspective of the students’ home countries. They also take advantage of opportunities for anti-racist teaching - for example, by using resources and activities from the charity Show Racism the Red Card and their PSE module – and they celebrate key festivals that are important to the learners, such as World Hijab Day.

3) Ensuring Success

Character strengths

Specific character strengths - i.e., kindness, teamwork, love of learning, perseverance, leadership, creativity and bravery - are threaded through NEST’s annual programme. These strengths are valued and rewarded, with certificates being awarded to students who display them. This focus on character strengths enables students to succeed in areas other than academic achievement.

Phonic Books

Many of the learners who join NEST are not only new to English, but also to Literacy, with some being non-literate in their first language. Therefore, learning to read is a key skill that the programme needs to focus on and is a big part of the curriculum. For example, there is a 30-minute reading session every morning, and in those sessions appealing and age-appropriate graphic novels are used from the Phonics Books website.

Wider curriculum

Jane stressed that NEST’s wider curriculum is key for building on the strengths and skills that their learners bring and enabling them to succeed, for example, gardening, cooking, embroidery.

Finally, Jane explained that the practical suggestions that she shared during her presentation would be transferable to mainstream contexts.


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