How you can support Afghan refugees coming to your school

As refugees from Afghanistan begin to arrive in the UK, primary schools across the UK are ready to welcome the children of these families. Katy Isaac offers some steps for supporting these children and signposts to useful resources

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Headteacher Update

As schools prepare for the arrival of refugees from Afghanistan many will be considering the best approach to welcoming refugee children and their families, and meeting their needs. Wellbeing will be a priority; refugees from Afghanistan will have, undoubtedly, experienced trauma and left friends and family behind; special consideration should be given to this. Schools can provide a sense of belonging and ensuring that children can experience the routines of normal school life is a significant part of this.

It is also important to note that refugee and asylum-seeking children have the same entitlement to education as other pupils, and that schools have a responsibility to ensure these learners can fully access the curriculum. Whatever their current demographic, it is advisable for any school expecting the arrival of refugees to review their policies and practices for pupils using English as an additional language.

In essence, supporting refugee pupils from Afghanistan, or any other country for that matter, is about good inclusive practice. Here are some suggested steps.

Step 1: Prepare staff

Review any new arrival policy and procedures you already have in place; check they are up-to-date and suitable for the specific needs of refugee pupils. Guidance on new arrivals and refugees and asylum-seekers can be found on The Bell Foundation website. Ensure that the whole staff, including office staff, are familiar with the school’s new arrivals procedure and associated roles and responsibilities.

Thinking about information-sharing is important. If the school receives specific information from the local authority, or other organisation, about a child arriving, share this with all relevant people – the teacher, classroom support staff, senior leadership team, and office staff.

Allocate CPD time

Training possibilities include those offered by The Bell Foundation and Refugee Education UK. In addition, the National Education Union has produced resources to support schools to deliver CPD sessions on welcoming refugee children. Consider giving staff time to explore the resources suggested in Step 2, below.

Avoid generalisations

While an understanding of the context of refugees arriving from Afghanistan can be helpful, the experience of refugees cannot be generalised, and nothing will replace getting to know the individual child and their family.

Step 2: Prepare pupils

Culture of inclusion

The arrival of refugee families from Afghanistan provides an opportunity for schools to review how they promote a whole-school culture of inclusion and empathy. Resources to support this include books about refugees and resources produced by the British Red Cross for Refugee Week (June 20-26, 2022).

Learn to say their name

Guard against framing a new arrival as a victim or ‘other’. The short animation Our Story (Kilogramme, 2018) is suitable for Key Stage 2 classes expecting a new class member.

Step 3: Welcome the family

First meeting

Arranging a meeting with the family prior to admission helps ensure a smooth start and is an opportunity to establish a partnership. Ideally, arrange for an interpreter. If this is not possible try other communication aids – Dari and Pashto are available on Microsoft Bing Translator, for example.

Previous education

Find out about the child’s previous education, language practices (including literacy), their likes, and any worries. Explain why questions are being asked and avoid asking anything emotive or intrusive. After the meeting, share a written pupil profile with all relevant staff.

A tour of the school

The child is likely to appreciate a peek into their classroom but try to avoid making the experience overwhelming (a first visit might not be the best time to introduce them in front of the whole class, for example).

Consider differences

Be mindful that the UK education system will be different and unfamiliar. Parents/carers might appreciate copies of the guidance documents translated into Dari and Pashto available on The Bell Foundation website (see the Parental Involvement resources). Ensure they have key information, such as pick-up and drop-off times, in a clear format that they can take away.

Sharing information

Discuss how information will be shared with the family. If they will have difficulty accessing key documents or letters, investigate translation possibilities and explain opportunities for face-to-face interaction.

Community involvement

Invite parents/carers to be involved in the school community – joining a parent group for example. Signpost opportunities in the local area, such as ESOL classes or play groups, and any local organisations that support refugees.

Step 4: Review your provision

  • Check-in with the pupil and their family/carers. Find out if there is anything more the school can do to support them.
  • Check-in with the teacher and others involved with supporting the pupil. Find out what is working well and where they might need support.
  • Network with other schools with refugee pupils from Afghanistan to share good practice.
  • Plan for what could be done differently next time and what resources need to be put in place. Schools of Sanctuary offers an audit tool to support with self-assessment.
  • Find ways to acknowledge and celebrate your refugee pupil’s achievements, also giving credit to all those in the school community who support them.

Katy Isaac is a trainer at The Bell Foundation, a charity working to overcome exclusion through language education. For details, visit www.bell-foundation.org.uk

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