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Refugees face hard times in new classes

Refugees who arrive in Britain during their secondary school years have trouble resuming their education, according to new research by the World University Service.

A survey of 38 young refugees from 12 countries found that those who had access to professional advice settled in best. Those who chose schools and colleges after receiving advice were more likely to have been given sufficient language support, and to have made satisfactory general progress.

But just over half the sample reported that they did not receive any professional advice. Many were then sent to inappropriate schools. Some pupils found themselves doing work they considered too easy; others stayed silent in class. "We did not receive any information about the education in the UK when we arrived, and that's why I kept going from one course to another for the first three months," said one student.

Some of those interviewed had experienced significant disruption of their education before they left their home countries, due to war or civil strife. Some had continued their education for brief periods in countries where they had stayed before their arrival in the UK.

Many also encountered disruption and delay in their attempts to resume their education in the UK. Twin sisters from Sudan, wanting to enrol for GCSEs, waited seven months to find a school.

Once accepted, there was wide variation between the receptions offered to refugees. Some schools had induction systems designed for newly-arrived and bilingual students. Others simply left new arrivals to survive as best they could. "I stayed quiet. I did nothing for one month. If I want anything, I can't ask," said one pupil.

Different styles of teaching and learning presented obstacles, particularly active learning. "In Ethiopia we always took notes from what the teacher said. I find it difficult to get used to the system here." Some of the young refugees were too beset by difficulties outside school to concentrate on education. Ten had arrived unaccompanied by any adult; four had responsibility for younger relatives. "My cousins are under age and I have to look after them. I had to go to the Home Office, DSS and everywhere. I couldn't attend my college properly, " said one.

Report author Jeremy McDonald calls for more systematic recognition of refugees' prior learning and achievements.

* Refugee children from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia are missing out on many of the education, care and health services which could help them settle here, according to guidelines published this week.

Only four out of 10 school-aged refugees whose education has been disrupted, usually by civil war, receive any additional help at school. Their parents say that education and health professionals do not understand their problems, such as isolation and insecurity.

The Daycare Trust guidelines are based on research backed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and call for a national policy to co-ordinate resettlement of refugee pupils.

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