Tips to show you care

25th January 2008 at 00:00
"Monica" remembers arriving at a Bristol secondary school four years ago, hardly able to speak a word of English. Her journey to school took two hours from the hostel where she and her mother were living. They had escaped an abusive stepfather in Holland to stay with friends in England. But after two weeks, they were kicked out. They started on a misery-go-round of hostels, before moving into a council flat.

Today, she is doing well: with a GCSE in Dutch taken in Year 9, she will take seven more next summer.

Monica benefited from regular help from a Shelter child support worker and from the charity's Groovy Team, a consultative group of young people with experience of homelessness. Together they drew up a list of tips for teachers:

- Be extra sensitive. Such pupils may be experiencing difficult times.

- Appoint a "buddy" to show them around for the first few weeks. Arrange for a teacher or other adult to check in with them regularly.

- Never announce to the class that so-and-so is homeless. And be careful who you tell.

- If homework requires a computer or a visit to a library, be aware that this may not be possible.

- Find out how they travel to school. If the journey is long, take this into account when they appear late or tired.

- Invite the parents to meet you with the pupil. If they have moved around a lot, they may not have been to a parents' evening for a long time.

- Be sensitive when asking your class to get into small working groups. If you want them to work in pairs, take control of who works with whom, so the newcomer is not left without a partner.

- Be aware of possible financial difficulties. If money is required for a trip or special supplies, check whether this will be possible for the parent. If not, use school funds.

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