Supporting Refugee Children in the Classroom

With much political unrest and safety being compromised in countries around the world, asylum is essential for those seeking safety. In September 2021, according to the UNHCR, the UK had received 37,562 asylum applications. Germany received the highest number of asylum applications in EU+ in the year ending June 2021, totalling 113,625, followed by France and Spain. 

The UNHCR revealed at the end of 2020, the UK was home to 132,349 refugees with 77,245 pending asylum and 4662 declared stateless. 

With asylum being offered around the world, it is important to consider how we can help refugees settle and integrate into society, leading a life free from judgement and prejudice. For children, it is likely they have either learnt English as a second language or have no prior knowledge of it. For teaching staff, knowing how to support refugees in the classroom can be challenging. 

We have compiled advice and support from reputable sources to provide teaching staff with guidance on welcoming migrants and refugee pupils into the classroom.

It is important to remember refugees have significant reasons for leaving their home country; there are many reasons for people seeking asylum including violence, war, persecution, and trauma. Childhood trauma can severely impact mental health and wellbeing for a prolong period, especially if unaddressed. As well as potentially dealing with traumatic memories, refugee children have arrived in a completely unfamiliar country. The schools they will attend will be completely different to anything they have known. Additionally, they will be surrounded by unfamiliar languages. Starting a new school is a scary prospect for children, regardless of their upbringing or background. Imagine how intimidating and frightening it must be for a refugee child; it is a difficult transition. For teaching staff welcoming new children into the classroom, it is a top priority to provide appropriate support and facilitate friendships. Moreover, initial assessments are carried out to understand the pupil’s educational and emotional needs, as well as supporting wellbeing. For refugee children, the aforementioned needs are crucial to ascertain, but language needs should also feature heavily in initial assessments. 

Consider Language Support

If there are significant language barriers preventing attainment and expression, prioritise contacting a professional interpreter/translator. Communication and comprehension are key to educational success and wellbeing.

External support 

Explore support available in the wider community to ensure the pupils do not lose their cultural identity. This could include community initiatives to support the development of their primary language in addition to learning English. Get in touch with the local authority and relevant organisations who can assist you with tailored support and professional advice.

In-School Support Agreement

Have a meeting with your SLT to discuss the provisions to be put in place to support refugees, including 1:1 work. Will the pupil require a 1:1 LSA? Is there capacity for this to be possible? How will the child be assessed? It may also be useful to draw up clear learning goals to focus on after initial assessments have been conducted. 

Get to Know Your New Pupil

As with any pupil, it is important to build rapport and a professional relationship based on trust. But you should also find out specific information, such as religious beliefs and dietary needs. Another key element in building rapport and trust is pronouncing and spelling the pupil’s name correctly, applicable to all staff who encounter them. Our names are integral to personal identity, so getting it right is crucial. Take the time to undertake discrete observations to understand the child’s personality traits. Find out small, but valuable, pieces of information such as their favourite colour, their favourite/strongest subject, and what matters to them. 

Speech Comes Naturally

Don’t be alarmed if the pupil is quiet or completely silent. This is normal after experiencing a traumatic event and facing big changes. Don’t place pressure on the child to talk; you may find, even if they speak, they are reluctant to discuss recent events and what they have been through. But it is equally important for the pupil to know they are allowed to talk and share their experiences, such as their family history and why they moved to the UK. Provide the right conditions to facilitate conversations should the child choose to disclose. 


As with all new pupils, it is important to welcome them into the school and introduce them to key daily routines. Consider asking the children in your class to create name badges or signs to display on their desks and host a circle time session dedicated to the pupils saying hello to the new arrival, telling them their name and one interesting fact about themselves. It is also important to provide a visual timetable of daily schedules and show them where key facilities, such as toilets and the lunch hall are. If the child has limited English, dedicate time to introducing key vocabulary, which is essential in day-to-day school life, such as toilet, play time, lunch time and reading. This will require patience and time. It is important the new pupil understands specific rules and expectations; again, pictures and actions will aid comprehension. 

Home Support

Keep parents/guardians informed of their child’s progress in school and get them involved in school events as well as their child’s learning. Inclusion is important for adults too! Ensure their parents understand the importance of retaining their first language and developing it at home. You can also contact the local authority who can organise home visits to support the pupil’s family and address any issues by providing tailored support. When setting homework, ensure your pupil has the necessary equipment to complete tasks, such as stationery. Consider contacting parents/guardians to discuss homework and see if the school can offer additional support, such as enrolling the child into homework club. 

Discuss Migration and Refugees in Class

Consider broaching the subject of asylum in the classroom. With numerous news reports focusing on asylum and migration, it is important to broach the subject in a child-friendly manner. Focus on positive acts, such as mutual respect and the celebration of diversity. Creating a positive and supportive atmosphere will ensure all new pupils are welcomed and respected.

Learn the Lingo

Celebrate multiculturalism by learning new languages. If you know pupils in your class speak another language, embrace it. Get the children to learn basic greetings, such as ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’, in the mother tongue of their fellow pupils. You could also dedicate displays to greetings in a range of languages around the school to foster a positive attitude towards diversity. 

Lesson Planning and Delivery

Ensure you cater specifically for refugee pupils within your lesson planning. It may be necessary to include an additional level of differentiation to cater for them. Consider writing separate learning objectives if the planned one is not achievable. Wherever possible, use practical and pictorial teaching methods and resources. When planning lessons, consider translating instructions and questions into the child’s primary language if their grasp of English is very limited; dictionaries and translation tools are great for this purpose. Practical resources, such as games, abacuses, and audio tools, are also important to consider.

Celebrate Success in all Subjects

Celebrating successes is key to fostering a positive and supportive classroom environment. For EAL children, subjects such as mathematics and sports are less reliant on language, and you may find EAL children excel in these areas. Celebrate their achievements and share their success with parents/guardians. 

There are many more ways to support refugee children in the classroom. But, in summary, the most important thing to do is take a child-centred approach. Whatever you do and however you teach should be guided purely by each individual child and their needs. With time and patience, you will soon begin to understand their individual learning style, their strengths and weaknesses and areas of interest. Taking measures to foster a supportive culture based on mutual-respect and educating pupils and the community about asylum seekers and refugees are key to eliminating prejudice. 

You can access resources, support and guidance for welcoming refugees into the classroom from a variety of sources. We have detailed just some of these support avenues below:

Amnesty International 


Red Cross 

Refugee Council 

UNHCR Teacher Resources 

Article Sources:

If you are keen to create a positive classroom culture founded on mutual respect and kindness, our article, ‘How Do You Foster a Classroom Environment Founded on Mutual Respect, Kindness and Support?’ is an ideal place to start. 

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