What should we do about Jaroslav?

14th January 2000 at 00:00
Legal changes will mean many schools soon coping with their first refugee pupils. Carolyn O'Grady reports, while (right) Chris Jarrett meets Jaroslav, the pupil who arrived with his own interpreter

T oday, Jaroslav turned up at our reception unan- nounced. He brought his own interpreter. He is a refugee from Croatia. He has been sent to us. Will we admit him, please?

Our school has a tradition of coping with immigrants, of teaching them the English they need to function in society, to get a job, to have an independent life. It may be that they don't get any further than a taxi or a takeaway, but these are our successes. We have had a few go on to do degrees. These are our triumphs. It is a shame that this is not reflected in the league tables.

Our school has always stood for equal opportunities, for welcoming new children from abroad. We have grown rich - in culture, not cash. As a school we're very good with students such as Jaroslav. He's come to the right place.

We check his credentials. They are genuine. He is of Year 11 age. We have spare places in the school (league tables again). We want to admit Jaroslav.

However ... We have had a steady stream of refugees this year. Year 11 have 6 per cent refugees already. None of them will get five GCSEs at grades A* to C. We are a good school but we don't work miracles. Our position in the league table will be under threat.

But never mind. We are idealists enough to recognise that children who are refugees need us as much, if not more, than children who have lived in safety all their lives.

Please, Mr Blunkett, may we disapply such very special cases from the league tables so that we are not even tempted to turn Jaroslav and other refugees away? We do not want to cheat the system, just to level out the playing fields.

However, we don't have the resources for a student such as Jaroslav. He needs a lot of extra help.

The Government points out that we already have support in lessons for teaching English as an additional language. It is true - except support is spread too thin. Three teachers and two part-time assistants cannot attend every lesson whee there is a child in need of their help. They target. This means letting children cope as best they can with lessons in a language that they do not understand while the class teacher tries to tear herself in two.

Please, Mr Blunkett, may we have more money so that we can give our refugees the help they need, whatever their background or ethnicity? We only want a fraction of the price paid in bombs to free their land.

There is a group in Year 11 that we have already set up which receives extra support. It would be the best place for Jaroslav and there are only four students. They are Kosovars. But Jaroslav is Serbian.We can't turn round to Jaroslav and say: "You are Serbian. You can't come to our school." We cannot say he can join us but he can't be in the group that gets support because he's Serbian. But should we tell the Kosovars to welcome him?

We know the Kosovars have suffered. Some have been orphaned by the war. They have seen awful things, beyond belief, and suffered terribly. How can we say to them that they should sit in class beside a Serbian?

Jaroslav is just a child. It isn't his fault that there was a war. He's suffered too. He is a Serb from Croatia. He is a refugee. Can we deny him schooling because of his ethnicity?

He has the same right as the Kosovars to come to school. He has the same right to receive support. But we do not have the resources to support both him and them in separate classes.

Should we say to the Kosovars that this is Britain, and in Britain we believe in tolerance and fair play and the rights of every child of every race and every ethnicity to have an equal opportunity? Shall we tell them that it is wrong to be prejudiced against Jaroslav because of what he is? Shall we tell them that they must forget and forgive?

Is it condoning racism to take the views (or should we say the prejudices?) of the Kosovars into account? Or is it racism to impose our own culture of tolerance and political correctness on the Kosovars?

Please Mr Blunkett, tell us this: what should we do with Jaroslav?

Chris Jarrett teaches in Bedfordshire. He writes under a pseudonym

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