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Supporting refugee families


Schools and early years settings play a crucial role in helping refugee families establish themselves in local communities. Apart from their educational role, schools provide opportunities for families to access parent and neighbourhood networks and local services.

Refugee families and children may have complex needs. Problems with housing, health, employment, benefits and immigration can all impact adversely on children’s wellbeing and learning. Although teachers cannot be expected to respond to every type of problem, they are well placed to identify potential difficulties and help families find the support they need.

Good practice

Liaise with colleagues

Some schools have outreach and home-school liaison practitioners who provide advice and support to families. They may have developed considerable knowledge and expertise, and be aware of local agencies and organisations that can provide help.

Many schools have extended school services that help meet the needs of their pupils, families and the wider community.Extended services include adult education, community use of ICT facilities and support for health and wellbeing.

Signpost’ to local advice and support

By finding out about local services and keeping up to date information on them, teachers are well-placed to direct or ‘signpost’ families to places where they can get help and advice. In most towns and cities there are a range of agencies that provide support to all sections of the community, including refugees, although many services are now operated at a reduced level because of cutbacks. There may also be organisations and projects that have a specific role to help and advise refugees.

Create partnerships
Some schools have established partnerships with local advice agencies, such as Citizens Advice Bureaux, where in some schools an outreach or advice worker may visit the school each week to provide information and support to families. Many families feel more at ease meeting advice workers in the school environment

Listen to parents
Teachers should be aware aware that refugee parents from different national and cultural backgrounds may have quite different needs. When planning support and interventions a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to address the specific needs of some families. Many schools have a flexible approach to family learning provision, and have adapted family learning programmes, for example, to focus on particular needs.

Frequently asked questions

Is it a job for teachers to support families? Shouldn’t social workers and others be doing that?

School practitioners have always been a source of support and advice for parents, not just about issues relating to their children’s education.Providing support can help improve the wellbeing of the family, this will in turn have a positive effect on children’s educational progress. For many refugee families, their children’s school may be the only neighbourhood resource that they are confident to approach. Parents may be more at ease talking to school staff they know and trust than they do other agencies.

Aren’t family issues a big thing to take on, on top of my teaching workload?

Schools as a whole have a collective role in responding to the wider needs of families and children. Ofsted inspections will also focus on how schools support the progress of children who are particularly disadvantaged and/or from vulnerable groups.In practice, schools will aim to work closely with a range of local services for children and families. A multi-agency approach means that schools and teachers can work in partnership with others to address the full range of needs that can affect children’s progress and achievement.

What kinds of advice should schools make available to families?
Teachers and student teachers should not give advice in those areas where they lack knowledge and expertise as this may do more harm than good. Schools can find out about local services and agencies that work with families and maintain up-to-date information on them. Some schools display leaflets and posters of agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureaux.


Bill Bolloten
Tim Spafford

Key Readings and Resources