First stop on the road back to a normal life

David Henderson reports on the vital role school plays in the lives of asylum-seekers.

SCHOOL is a highlight for many young asylum-seekers but safety is their biggest worry with parents reluctant to let them out to play because of fears of racism and harassment, a survey of 738 primary and secondary children in Glasgow has found.

The best things about life on housing schemes are school and teachers, sport and being with friends and family. The downside is violence, fear, racism, bullying and drugs and alcohol.

More than half of the secondary-aged pupils rated feeling safe as the hardest aspect of Glasgow life, with where they live as the second hardest, followed by making friends and learning English. The easiest aspects were having fun and taking part in sport.

The survey, carried out in March by the city's education department and Save the Children, involved 509 pupils in 20 primaries and 229 from seven secondaries. There were 35 focus groups in 27 schools.

City officials comment: "Getting to grips with learning English, an unfamiliar education system, local culture and making new friends are all challenges they face. Success at school offers them one avenue to realise their full potential and many have aspirations to succeed in order to give something back."

Holidays and weekends are viewed as boring as lack of money and safety fears limit what young people can do. Parents do not have the cash for toys and computers while young asylum-seekers often have to become interpreters because of their parents' lack of English. This can involve them in issues inappropriate to their age.

Only half the sample of parents were able to help with homework, although many wanted to. The city stresses the need to help families settle and integrate, and to fund anti-racism initiatives and new ways to inform and advise.

Schools should provide help with homework, opportunities for developing first languages, integration activities and anti-racist training.

The survey involved 54 nationalities, speaking 40 languages, the most common being Farsi, Arabic, Turkish and Urdu. Nearly half (45 per cent) were unable to write in their own language, partly because of their age. But 67 per cent had been to school before arriving in Glasgow.

One in five had been in the city for less than six months and one in three lived with a single parent.

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