Supporting Refugee Children

I wrote this post in September 2015 because I was struck by how our school experience of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK had been reported across the UK by the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights. I subsequently added an update in July 2016 following publication of the House of Lords European Union Committee report Children in Crisis: Unaccompanied Children in the EU. You can read this report here (the info graphic on p7 usefully summarises key information). Sadly, this report echoed many of the concerns of the earlier report of the Joint Select Committee. 
September 2015

Of all the students starting the new academic year with us, I was perhaps most proud that we were providing an education for some who had recently arrived from Syria. Not having been in school for up to three years because of conflict, they were pleased to be in lessons again. I just hope that they don’t have to go through some of the experiences of many of our previous students seeking refuge from conflict.

Select Committee Report
In March the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights reported some concerns on the way unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were treated by the judicial processes to establish their status. The report can be found here and a Guardian interview with the Chair, Hywel Francis MP here. Both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the Children’s Act, 2004 include a commitment to put the interests of children first, without discrimination. The committee had concerns that in several ways this commitment was not being met. These included:

  • concerns that the numbers of children and young people receiving special welfare legal aid and asylum & immigration legal aid had fallen by nearly two thirds due to cuts in legal aid funding;
  • a tendency for immigration considerations to override the commitment put the rights of the child first; 
  • a ‘culture of disbelief’ surrounding age assessments; and 
  • a tendency to grant lower forms of leave to remain rather than full asylum, meaning young people could be removed at 17


Our School Experience

Our school is a wonderfully diverse community and includes several students who are refugees. In order to support these children to re-engage with education, we have to support them in a number of ways. Unfortunately one of these has to be mitigating the impact of the Home Office judicial processes referred to in the Select Committee report. We have found that (as the committee noted), no move is usually made to remove a young person until they are 17, but judicial processes are carried out beforehand, when they are children, often with little or no English, or family members in the UK. The support we provide includes explaining the process, providing emotional support, and, when necessary, accompanying them to interviews and hearings. This is made harder because these hearings occur at a range of venues. We had one 15 year old student, for example who was required to attend three different meetings and hearings, in Cardiff, Croydon and Birmingham.


The committee called for a better support structure “to help children navigate the asylum and immigration processes” and for the government not to “return children to countries such as Afghanistan or Iraq where there are ongoing conflict or humanitarian concerns.” I have to agree. In my experience it is charities and school staff who currently provide the support, and the judicial processes do not demonstrate a commitment to the interests of the child. Children who gain Higher education places, are simultaneously denied the possibility of funding and face moves to remove them to the very conflict zones and countries mentioned in the report.


The Future

Supporting these vulnerable students is vital but much of the work we do lies out of the remit of the school, and certainly beyond the job descriptions of teachers. I’m concerned that with tight finances it may be unsustainable. It’s therefore my hope that the recommendations of the select committee are acted on by the new government.
July 2016

A recent report by the House of Lords European Union Committee has called for urgent action to improve the EU response to the refugee crisis and the unaccompanied children are treated by the immigration system within the UK. The report concludes that children face a pervasive climate of suspicion and disbelief, especially about their age, may be detained inappropriately, lack legal advice and support, and are put at risk. The report calls for a consistent approach across the EU member states, reiterates the ‘best interests of the child’ principle of the UNCRC (which, together with the Children’s Act, would apply irrespective of Brexit), and calls for all unaccompanied children to have a guardian.

I find it disturbing that over a year after the original select committee report, so little seems to have changed. It is true that the number of children seeking asylum in the UK increased by 56% in 2015, but so has national, and international, interest in the refugee crisis. As schools receive more UASCs, we may find ourselves acting as advocates in the absence of any formal provision.

I would be really interested to hear of the experiences from other schools who support refugee children, or charities who work with schools.


Evaluating CPD? Forget Trip Advisor

Like many school leaders I have been exploring a better way of monitoring the impact of INSET. I am convinced of the importance of CPD as a crucial investment in staff even in times of financial stricture. Perhaps especially in those times. That belief, however, does not cut the mustard when it comes to proving that the time, money and other resources invested in training has paid dividends in terms of pupil outcomes.

Long-term investment in CPD

Over the last few years we have shifted the balance from ‘away day’ courses to long-term training. We support colleagues through academic qualifications such as Masters degrees and professional ones such as the MLDP. This demonstrates commitment to the long-term development of colleagues, provides tangible benefits to the school and sits well within our commitment to being a community of lifelong learners.

This type of professional development is easy to evaluate. The colleague gains a recognised qualification and the action research element is always key area of the SIP, contributing for clear outcomes for pupils.



There is still a place for the INSET day. There is training that we all need to renew, such as safeguarding as well as updates on the national and local agenda which affect teachers and pupils. We also use the time for colleagues to share good practice and teaching tools they have developed. I have found it harder to evaluate the impact of this training. For many years I used staff evaluations, having colleagues rate sessions on an evaluation form. The trouble with this kind of customer satisfaction survey is that everyone may have a jolly good time, but will that have a positive impact on the experience of pupils. It also seems to be that the colleagues who are less satisfied always seem to be ones who don’t tend to fill in the ‘Even better if…’ part.

Consequently I, and those in charge of training at other schools within Oxford City Learning (a partnership of secondary schools) have become increasingly sceptical of the ‘Trip Advisor’ approach.


No Correlation

In my evaluation of our September INSET, I carried out a correlational analysis of ratings for the helpfulness of different sessions by staff members against their key learning points, and helpfulness vs. intended actions. In neither case did I find much in the way of a correlation:

Helpfulness vs. Learning, r = 0.2576​Helpfulness vs. Intentions, r = -0.1832
Neither result was statistically significant.

 The commentary from staff on learning is more useful that their ratings of helpfulness because it allows me to identify whether the intended impact of the training was achieved. By and large, this seems to have happened. Most staff commented on strategies with the groups of pupils we were focussing on: disadvantaged students, those with particular disabilities and special needs, and those who need to make rapid progress with their literacy. Learning comments also indicate that some staff made links between the separate elements of the INSET: Our school value of ‘Justice’ working through a consideration of developmental needs from ages 2 – 19 (we’re an all-through school with nursery, primary and secondary phases), to differentiating to meet the needs of particular groups of students. On the other hand some staff did not make this connection and a few questioned the relevance of some aspects of the training. This shows me that, while there is always a balance to be struck, perhaps particularly at the start of term, we need to do more to give a holistic overview prior in the introduction to training


Evaluation across the year

It’s the follow-through on the intended actions that will be the key to evaluating the impact on pupil outcomes. Further INSET will pick up on strategies to improve progress by the groups of pupils mentioned above. The session that had the highest combined rating for helpfulness, key learning and intended actions (on extended writing across the curriculum) featured a combination of research evidence, contributions from teachers from different curriculum area, demonstrations of improved pupil work and a resource pack for all teachers. This shows that teacher-led examples of successful practice, backed by resources to support their colleagues, are a winning combination. Further INSET during the year will be based on this model with differentiated choice so training is personalised.

It is actual, rather than intended, action that makes the difference, of course. We will use our usual evidence-gathering systems (learning walks, marking drops, student voice, etc) to gauge the impact of teaching actions stemming from INSET. CPD is also picked up in Performance Development (we don’t use that vile term ‘Appraisal’ urgh), with all teachers having an objective around the progress of disadvantaged pupils this year, and being able to shape a personalised CPD objective.

I’ll update this post later in the year when more of our intentions have been implemented as actions.

Helpful comments are always welcome. I’d also like to hear more about evaluation of CPD in other schools.

Workable Wellbeing

Inspired by the @SLTchat discussion about wellbeing on 6/9/15, I have collated some of the easily implementable ideas we use to promote wellbeing at St Gregory the Great Catholic School in Oxford.

Some updates added on 10th October 2015 to mark World Mental Health Day.

1. Free tea & coffee in our staff room. This is essential really, I feel it makes breaks a proper break and its the fuel that keeps staff going in between! I’ve worked in schools where staff pay into a kitty for tea & coffee – it’s a lot of effort for a very small sum in terms of a school budget and usually a nightmare for the colleague who has to get everyone to cough up. Chocolate biscuits also help at high pressure times and several colleagues share cake on their birthdays.

2. Considering the impact of new policies on staff wellbeing. Change seems to be the one contestant in schools. As we plan and implement new policies and procedures it’s important to consider their impact on workload and wellbeing. I have described this in more detail here.

3. Thank yous. It only takes a moment to say thank you, but in a busy day doing so can easily slip, whether acknowledging an email response, on paper or in person. It’s well worth getting into the habit of thanking people in even the routine tasks like a request for photocopying to reprographics. Use key points in the year such as the end of terms to voice appreciation or drop people a note. Performance management reviews are also an opportunity to thank colleagues for their contribution over the past year. At our Performance Development (we don’t call it appraisal) day this year we picked up on idea from Cheney school, Oxford, and started a staff Thank You board where anyone can post thank yous to colleagues.

4. Active steps to make workload manageable. We try to plan for busy times of the year, for example reducing the requirement to attend meetings in the weeks before exam board submission dates. I’ve written more about this here.

5. Staff book swap. We maintain simple book swap in the staff room. Colleagues contribute books they have read and enjoyed and anyone can take them to read themselves. There is only one condition: if you enjoy the book you have to pass it on to someone else you think will like it. We started with about 30 books donated by colleagues a couple of years ago. Since then the book swap has grown and become completely self-sustaining.

6. Mindfulness. We are just starting out with mindfulness as a school after training at the start of the year. We are aiming to use it with pupils, especially to reduce anxiety, but many friends and colleagues have found it extremely useful, so we are also keen to explore the benefits for staff wellbeing.

7. Spirituality. I work at a Catholic school so prayer and worship form part of school life. Our chapel is an oasis of peace and staff are welcome to take part in a short Taize service each week. It’s open most of the time to drop in. Most schools, whatever their character, have staff faith groups. While maybe not what everyone wants, they can be a boon to the wellbeing of their members.

8. Humour. A smile, a laugh, a cartoon or a joke, even if it is a bit lame, can lighten the day sometimes even the workload. It’s important to get the balance right, and to make sure the humour isn’t personal, but used well humour can make a large contribution to wellbeing. We try to have something that will make people smile at staff briefing, in our newsletter, and in the end-of-week email. My colleagues seem to have quite taken to the idea of dressing up 1980s style to mark ‘Back to the Future Day’ on 21st October. People are sending me pictures of their hair crimpers.

9. Cake. Yes cake. It seems to feature quite a bit. It precedes CPD, accompanies meetings and is occasional treat at break time. I noticed a thread in the #SLTchat discussion about the benefits of fruit. I can see the health and nutrition arguments, but I think if we tried to replace cake we might have a mass walkout. As a compromise we sometimes put fruit in the cake. Cocoa beans are a fruit, right?

10. Staying Fresh. Ideas that I was struck by in the @SLTchat included sending cards to team members that arrive home over the summer (from @MrBenWard), ‘Have a break, have a kit kat’ for staff returning after illness (from @TeacherToolkit) and specific coaching for managing time & wellbeing (from @ottleyoconnor). For myself, I’m going to try to make time for lunch as @gazneedle suggested) – something I’m not too good at most weeks.

It would be great to here other suggestions that have worked for you. Thanks to @ASTsupportAAli from Cheney School for the Thank you board idea. @evenbetterif has suggested a wellbeing objective in everyone’s performance development – an idea we will consider for next year.

Growing in Justice

We have four school values – wisdom, justice, integrity and compassion. At our September INSET day, we spent some time considering what justice at school means for children as they move from the nursery, through the primary & secondary phases and into our sixth form. We wanted to capture what justice looks, sounds and feels like in the classroom.

This was also a fantastic opportunity for colleagues who teach in different phases to get together to consider one of our core values that underpins everything we do. After a brief introduction, colleagues shared what justice meant to them in cross phase groups. We captured and shared some of the main ideas that emerged. Colleagues then worked on practical examples of justice at work, posting them on a timeline from ages 2 to 18.

Emerging themes

Content analysis of these responses revealed Three main themes:

1. Individual Needs. Justice means meeting individual needs, rather than doing the same with every child. However, visible consistency and fairness are crucial in establishing the concept of justice for children. Clear expectations and consistent routines are important from the outset and justice in its most basic sense is about maintaining a safe & secure learning environment. An understanding of the different needs of others can then develop within this context.

2. Expanding Concept. The concept of justice expands as the child’s understanding of the world increases. For the youngest children, it is mainly about individual interactions with family, friends and members of staff. This extends to groups, their class, the school, local then wider community. With pupils in KS4 & Sixth Form, social justice encompasses society as a whole, as well as how we treat the people we are with day-to-day. With this increasing understanding comes questioning of the status quo. For some students it is hard to find the balance between the exercise of their increasing independence while still extending justice and fairness to those around them. Several colleagues commented that a cry of “It’s not fair!” is most likely to be heard in EYFS and Year 9! This transition requires the move from mere compliance with rules to an internalization of the values behind them.

3. Increasing Contribution. In parallel with their expanding concept of justice, the extent to which children contribute to justice in classroom / school / society increases. Early on justice is evident in taking turns, sharing and using ‘kind hands’. These prosicial behaviours are encouraged between individuals through increasingly cooperative play. Later on negotiation, cooperation, and empathy for the needs of others are developed through group and class work. Older children take on responsibility for justice, working together to contribute to, for example, Year group assemblies, House competitions, or whole school fundraising for good causes. Our oldest students will engage in formal volunteering, mentoring of younger students, or in organising charity events – often requesting that the school responds to current social issues.

The main strength of this session was the opportunity for colleagues who teach in different phases to work together on something so fundamental. We will now be giving further consideration to the language we use with children of different ages, developing a planned progression of age-appropriate terms that fosters the development of justice in our all-through school community. One key element is the extent to which what we say and do merely requires compliance with rules or encourages the development of understanding and internalisation of the values behind them.

As always, I welcome any constructive comments and would love to hear about work going on in other schools.