Refugees now talking with Scottish accents

3rd October 2008 at 01:00

Children who fled Congo's civil war and were offered a home in Motherwell say they enjoy school and locals are friendly, according to research on how they have settled in - but they would like less rain.

The youngsters, many of whom spoke little or no English and had never been to school before, have adapted well to their new lives in Scotland, the North Lanarkshire educational psychologists who carried out the research said.

While the picture is generally upbeat, there is concern that secondary pupils in particular are struggling to cope without the language units funded by central government in their first year.

Nancy Ferguson, one of the council's educational psychologists, told the conference she had become concerned that pupils felt "adrift" after the language units ceased to exist. These had provided a "safe haven" for many youngsters, she said, and it gave them the language support they needed to access the demanding curriculum.

Last year, North Lanarkshire Council became the first local authority in Scotland to take part in the United Nations' Gateway Protection Programme, which resettles the world's most vulnerable refugees. By March last year, 77 refugees, including 30 children who survived the bloodiest conflict since the Second World War, arrived in Motherwell from Kala Refugee Camp in Zambia where many had lived for years. Most had been raped or tortured, or witnessed the murder of family members.

Schools were excited about the prospect of welcoming the youngsters, Ms Ferguson told the conference. But they were anxious about the language barrier and the degree of trauma the children had experienced.

The children's behaviour was mixed. While one was confident, another was "difficult to the extent of being truculent", commented a secondary headteacher. One primary pupil's pace of learning was described as "phenomenal" by her headteacher; other children, she said, were "quite bright and brighter than many of our own children". However, seven children aged under 15 had to be referred to child and adolescent mental health services.

The 11 children started out with poor eye contact, changes in mood and apparent frustration but, by this year, they were mixing well with their peers and had developed friendships. Researchers also found that, while they initially had little understanding of English, after the first year they were confident in English and many spoke with a Scottish accent.

Primary pupils said they enjoyed school and, on average, the secondary pupils rated school nine out of 10. All intended staying at school until S6. They had made friends, although those in secondary commented on feeling excluded.

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