Schools urged to sign charter to help asylum-seekers settle in

15th May 2009 at 01:00
Getting lost in huge secondaries tops list of anxieties for new arrivals

Schools have been called on to sign up to a new charter designed to ease the process of welcoming asylum-seeker pupils.

The Welcome Charter - which was launched on Wednesday - highlights the problems of integrating into a new school: many pupils can experience an immediate dip in their academic progress.

The charter was created by 20 pupils from Abraham Moss High School in Crumpsall, Manchester, and the Manchester College, a further education institution. The youngsters are either new arrivals to England or involved in a buddy scheme to help pupils find their feet.

The programme suggests a series of initiatives, including homework clubs and buddying schemes, to help newcomers settle in.

It includes simple measures such as providing children with a map of the school. One of the most persistent complaints of refugee students is that it is hard to find their way around.

Rachel Morris of the Children's Society is project worker at Safe in the City Manchester. She works with children at Abraham Moss and the Manchester College three days a week.

"One of the biggest fears is getting lost in massive high schools," she said. "They said they wanted a tour or a map of the school."

The scheme comes as government statistics show that 15.2 per cent of primary pupils and 11.1 per cent of children at secondaries do not speak English as their first language, a rise from 14.3 per cent and 10.6 per cent, respectively.

The proportion of ethnic minority pupils, defined as anyone who is not white British, has risen in primary schools to 24.5 per cent from 23.3 per cent, and is up to 20.6 per cent from 19.5 per cent in secondaries.

The biggest single ethnic groups in primaries are Pakistani and "any other white", who make up 3.9 per cent of the pupil population. In secondaries, it is "any other white" who make up 3.4 per cent of pupils.

A separate initiative to help children settle in using short information films in their own language has been launched in Southend, Essex.

The English Schools Induction Service (ESIS) has been developed by Blade Education, a not-for- profit company, and the Southend Education Trust, a social enterprise company made up of the local authority and its schools. It has produced 21 short information films which cover subjects such as Going to School, Your Things, Where to Sit, Teachers, Toilets, Friends and Being Equal.

There are versions of the films in 20 languages, but this is due to be extended to 40 by summer 2010.

In Southend, they will be used in all 37 primary schools. The languages available are Bengali, French, Mandarin, Polish, Urdu, Arabic, Ndebele, Shona, Romanian, Japanese and English.

Sandra Roberts, chief executive of the Southend Education Trust, said: "Research conducted at Westborough Primary showed an overwhelmingly positive response to ESIS. The children get a real insight into those issues about school life a person born in the UK takes for granted."

Eight ways to make new arrivals feel at home

What pupils say they want when they join a school:

1. Someone to show them around

2. Time to find their way around the new school

3. Opportunity to make new friends

4. To be able to speak and read in their own language

5. The knowledge that teachers will help if they're being bullied

6. Help with their school work

7. To know the names of their teachers

8. To succeed and enjoy their time at school.

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