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Left to right: Alison Prowle and Janet Harvell

Supporting refugees in the classroom

How teachers can prepare for the needs of refugee children

Posted by Alice Savage | May 31, 2017 | Teaching

Lucinda Reid talks to Janet Harvell, Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Children and Families at the University of Worcester...

At The Education Show 2017, I listened to Janet Harvell and Alison Prowle discuss their experiences of working in the Dunkirk refugee camp and how they are using this insight to train students and teachers. Their stories were incredibly thought-provoking, so a month later I spoke to Janet to find out more about her work at the University of Worcester.  

Our conversation became even more poignant as it took place the day after the devastating fire at the Dunkirk refugee camp. Here, she explains how teachers can help to make a difference. 

How did you become involved with the Dunkirk refugee camp? 

As a university, when we heard the reports on the developing refugee crisis, and saw the images of the tragic boat trips, we knew that we wanted to do something as a team. This included wanting to ensure that our courses reflected some of these current issues so that our students could better support refugee children and their families. We were then encouraged to put together a project group and received a small amount of funding to develop this. This led to an initial visit to the Dunkirk refugee camp, where we signed up to the volunteering community and visited the school and children centre. Subsequently we maintained contact with the children’s centre and followed up with a second visit. 

What did you learn from this experience? 

As a result of that visit, we identified the importance of ensuring that our courses reflected such current issues. We developed a themed week around the refugee topic with each module encouraging students to look at a different aspect of the refugee situation. This was then followed by a conference on ‘The lived experiences of refugee children and their families’. At the same time we also recognised that there was a need for professionals to have access to continuing professional development, and so we have also planned and delivered a series of CPD sessions about how to welcome and support refugee children and their families into a school setting.

Once a child is settled into the school, keep the communication channels between the school and families open. Don’t make assumptions. Encourage regular contact and provide opportunities for informal discussions and to ensure that all communication has been fully understood. 

How can teachers prepare for the needs of refugee children? 

When a child first comes into a school setting there might not seem to be any particular problems but these can often manifest themselves at a later stage. Current research suggests that once children have settled, the full impact of what they have experienced begins to emerge and it is at this time that staff need to be especially alert and understanding. This is why it is so important to have staff who have a realistic understanding of what they have been through, and can use this information to support their work with pupils on a one-to-one basis. Language used is obviously very important, and it is important that the school reviews language, to ensure that misinterpretation does not occur. It is also important to review existing school policies, such as bullying, and make sure the other pupils are given relevant information so that they too can also support the child. 

What support is available to teachers who want to learn more? 

Alison and I have done quite a bit of research into how schools/settings can provide support and respond to the needs of refugee children and their families; we would be happy to provide further information on this. As previously mentioned we also have a one-day CPD training course which is open to everyone. This is called, Including refugee and asylum-seeking children into your settling, and is ideal for teachers. 

Do you have any final advice? 

Once a child is settled into the school, keep the communication channels between the school and families open. Don’t make assumptions. Encourage regular contact and provide opportunities for informal discussions and to ensure that all communication has been fully understood. 

For more information about the CPD courses run by Janet and Alison, email cpdeducation@worc.ac.uk. Alternatively, email Janet at j.harvell@worc.ac.uk and Alison at a.prowle@worc.ac.uk

W: worcester.ac.uk 

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