Refugee children find a cold welcome in Scottish schools

26th March 1999 at 00:00
THE SCHOOL experience of refugee children in Scotland is not a happy one, according to a research report issued last week.

Speakers at an Edinburgh conference where the study was launched detailed a lack of information for families, lack of awareness on the part of teachers and a need for more specialist staff.

Time and again the study came across the information problem, Rowena Arshad, director of the centre for education for racial equality at Moray House, told the conference, organised by the centre. "That is a systems failure," Ms Arshad said.

Around 7,000 refugees come to Scotland every year and the Immigration and Asylum Bill, which is likely to become law by the end of the year, will add to the problem as asylum seekers are dispersed from London to other parts of Britain.

Richard Williams, national education adviser with the Refugee Council, said Glasgow could become a "reception zone" and the city's schools should ensure they are ready to make children safe and welcome.

Refugee children "come from a very different background from Scottish pupils and may have experienced a lot of distress and trauma", Alison Closs, senior lecturer in equity studies at Moray House and co-author of the research study, said.

Ms Arshad, the other co-author, said teachers of English as an additional language were the main source of support. "Yet this is a service that is being cut and not properly financed," she warned.

Joan Stead, research associate, stressed how refugee parents gave education for their children a high priority. They wanted empowerment, however, through information and through an open relationship with schools.

Ms Arshad said schools should be more thorough when they enrol refugee children. She cited the "shocking" case of a boy who had been in a school for three years, but staff did not know what language he used at home.

Several parents told of their struggles to build a new life in Scotland. Rose Tibi from Sudan described how her eight-year-old daughter, who had not been to school for two years and who did not speak English, was given little support at her new school in Edinburgh yet was expected to keep up with other pupils.

Vijaya Nair from Malaysia told how her children only survived in their new school in Dundee because they spoke English. "We got no help from the authorities," she said.

The Moray House report recommends that the Scottish Office and local authorities produce literature for refugee parents to help them understand the Scottish education system.

"The current level of funding and resourcing of English as an additional language provision throughout Scotland should be reviewed as a matter of urgency," it states.

Schools are urged to ensure that both non-teaching and teaching staff are equipped to handle multicultural and anti-racist approaches, including refugee issues.

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