If there is a single sector of life where refugee children have found stability, support and opportunities to move on, it has been in school. While government policy and popular opinion have hardened against asylum-seekers, the education system has, by and large, dealt with new arrivals to schools with compassion, support and encouragement.
But, as Jill Rutter points out in her new handbook, the challenges facing those children and the schools they find themselves in have taken on a new dimension with the introduction of the National Asylum Support Service. Under this system, asylum seekers are dispersed around the country to ease the pressure on inner cities. Families can find themselves in areas where there are few other newcomers, where locals are mistrustful or worse, where housing is poor and support services are inaccessible, inadequateor both.
Despite the harshness of these new measures, schools and LEAs can and should ensure that asylum-seeker children have a rewarding experience in British classrooms. This takes careful thought and planning, not always easy when schools and services have little experience of or expertise in provision for refugees.
The strength of this latest book by Jill Rutter, who until recently was national adviser at the Refugee Council and is now senior lecturer at the University of North London, is in the way she offers educationists a wide overview of the issues from different angles. In addition to presenting clear guidelines for schools and LEAs on how they can best help asylum-seeker children, she also explains who refugees are and why they are here in an encyclopedic compendium of refugee groups in the UK.
She is not out to dazzle her audience with shocking revelations, heart-rending accounts or even innovative approaches, but she knows her stuff and deftly challenges misconceptions and negativity towards asylum-seekers with facts that speak for themselves. As well as helping LEAs and schools to organise support services, the book offers teachers strategies on how to interact with newly arrived refugee children in unobtrusive but positive ways.
This practical, calm and humane publication is likely to become an indispensable resource for all those striving to provide children with what they need to pick up the threads of their tumultuous young lives.