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Buddy schemes crucial to help child asylum-seekers settle in

Schools can provide refugee children with stability in otherwise turbulent lives, educational psychologists say. An awareness of the children's emotional and practical needs enables teachers to help them adjust to British school life.

Writing in The Psychologist magazine, educational psychologists Mala German and Kimberly Ehntholt recommended that schools use induction schemes, such as buddying programmes, to help immigrant pupils settle in.

They suggested that schools could use interpreters with refugee parents, translate copies of school information and, as part of the mainstream curriculum, explore what it is to be a refugee.

Angela Piddock, the head of Wilberforce primary in Westminster, central London, uses all of these methods with her refugee pupils. The school also works with aid agencies to link families with community networks.

"We make the child feel immediately welcome, secure and safe ," said Ms Piddock. "They become part of school life straight away. That's our first priority. By valuing where they come from, their language, being aware of particular needs they might have, we make them as comfortable as possible."

But out-of-school circumstances - including uncertain asylum status, the threat of deportation, poor housing and poverty - can also have an impact on the emotional well-being of refugee children.

Dr German and Dr Ehntholt said: "Psychologists should bring these issues to the attention of school staff and assist them in thinking about the link between these problems and the child's psychological well-being."

Jeff Smith, head of Anson primary in Cricklewood, north London, agreed.

"Any information helps determine a child's specific needs," he said. "But sometimes parents are wary of giving too much away. You have to be sensitive.

"But children assimilate very, very quickly. Just because somebody has come as a refugee doesn't mean you can make assumptions about their abilities."

* www.thepsychologist.org.uk

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