Asylum seekers inspire pupils

24th October 2003 at 01:00
Children from abroad act as excellent role models for inclusion in schools, says Ofsted. Michael Shaw reports

Asylum-seeker children are receiving remarkable support from schools and often act as excellent role models to other pupils, according to inspectors.

The Office for Standards in Education reported this week that refugee pupils had caused financial and staffing difficulties for several schools.

For some, such as a primary school which received 300 asylum-seeker pupils in just two years, the children created "almost intolerable burdens".

But the inspectors found that teachers and heads had responded positively to their new students and deserved credit for their determination to help them.

One headteacher at a school with few ethnic-minority pupils said the arrival of 26 refugee students had been "better than any training video on inclusion".

Asylum-seeker children inspired to their classmates and teachers because of the seriousness with which they treated education, the inspectors said.

Even though all the asylum-seeker pupils spoke little or no English, nearly all made at least satisfactory progress, and many progressed well in a short time.

"In some cases the pupils demonstrated a hunger for learning which startled some of the more established members of the class," the report said.

"They and their parents often provided an intoxicating cocktail of motivation and determination to succeed, despite the difficult and often traumatic circumstances surrounding the leaving of their home country."

The inspectors examined 37 schools which had dealt with particularly high numbers of asylum-seekers and discovered that more than half had found the experience difficult.

In some cases the schools had helped diffuse antagonism and hostility between residents and asylum-seekers.

One Midlands school set up a forum at which residents, refugees and church representatives could meet.

The inspectors said schools were often good at making pupils' native languages parts of lessons, even if teachers could not speak them.

Problems that needed further attention included:

* teachers often had little training to help them deal with pupils suffering from severe psychological distress;

* the impact on schools was almost never considered when housing for asylum-seekers was planned;

* some teachers lacked basic background knowledge about the linguistic, cultural and educational experiences of their pupils. Occasionally this was because basic information, such as a child's age, was unknown;

* Work between different agencies was often unco-ordinated and schools seldom knew about the support they could provide.

The report cites examples of asylum-seeker pupils and their families who had been overwhelmed by the welcome they received.

One was a Somali woman who attended a drop-in centre a school for refugees.

She had been the victim of torture, suffered gunshot and stab wounds, had seen her husband killed in front of her and three of her children had been taken away.

"In discussion, she said that if it had not been for the support of the school, she would not have survived," the inspectors said.

The education of asylum-seeker pupils is at www.ofsted.gov.uk

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