Behaviour - School Inclusion

1st May 2009 at 01:00
Problem: Our school has a high intake of Eastern European immigrant children. The other pupils make fun of them and in many cases are spouting their parents' prejudices. What can I do?

It's not just the ranks of plumbers that have been swollen by recent arrivals. According to the annual school census, the number of ethnic minority pupils - classified as anything other than white British - has risen by almost a quarter in the past five years: from 17 per cent in 2003 to 21 per cent last year.

This is largely down to an influx from Eastern Europe, the result of the 2004 EU expansion that opened borders to countries including Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. In turn, this has created significant challenges for schools.

Issues over funding and communication may seem more immediate - particularly when about one in eight children has English as a second language - but integration can be a more intractable problem. Language difficulties may encourage divisions but, once established, these can be hard to dislodge, particularly when they are reinforced by what is happening outside school.

Regular anti-bullying tactics can help tackle the everyday behaviour, but on their own they may not be enough, says Clare Kelly, assistant head of Dane Royd Junior and Infant School in Wakefield. Ms Kelly says a more whole-school approach may be necessary. "Rather than looking at it just as an incident of bad behaviour, I would try to integrate it into my teaching," she says.

Seal (social and emotional aspects of learning) materials can be helpful, prompting circle time or class discussions. But even this may not be enough. "If it's happening in the community, I would make it more than just an issue in the classroom," she adds.

Ms Kelly, a regional teaching award winner, says the issues are similar whether the new arrivals are refugees, asylum seekers or from Eastern Europe. When a Somalian family recently arrived at Dane Royd, the school held a welcome assembly. "We did it as a celebration and if children can see the teachers setting a good example, that can have an effect," she says.

The family had arrived in Wakefield with virtually nothing, so the school involved the community by organising an appeal, and within days had black sacks full of toys and clothes. School trips can also be a good way to break down barriers.

"I would try to pair up a Polish parent, for example, with an English parent to form friendships between different groups," says Ms Kelly. "I'd also look at getting parents in to work with a class - maybe have them cook a Polish speciality."

Parental involvement may be harder for secondary schools, but teachers can make an impact, says Paul Dix, managing director of behaviour management specialists Pivotal Education. "You don't need to contradict the views of the parents to sow more inclusive seeds with the pupils," he says.

He suggests making it clear where the boundaries lie, including the behaviour you want to see as well as that you don't, but ensure your response is measured and the emphasis is on reinforcing positive behaviour.

Standing alongside pupils who are being victimised, having lunch with them and showing an enthusiasm for their culture can send powerful signals. "It is not possible to have integration without recognition," he adds. Displays on national heroes or the pupils' first language, balanced with support for them about British culture, can create a message that the school is excited about learning from and with new pupils.


  • Turn the arrival of pupils from another country into a celebration by looking at their culture, customs, language and cuisine.
  • Make sure your response is proportionate so divisions do not become entrenched.
  • Try to involve parents as much as possible - bring them into school, make use of their skills.
  • Recognise what is in your control. You can send out positive messages but changing community attitudes is a long-term project.


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