Victoria Leney explains how the findings of her study into support procedures for 16-18-year-old unaccompanied refugee learners can be applied to FE.
The media has shared the difficult situations refugees endure to make the journey to the United Kingdom.
But as a society we are less aware of the struggles and challenges they face after they have settled in a new country, and how their past experiences affect their educational needs, an area which desperately needs to be addressed.
I undertook a research study, with 16-18-year-old unaccompanied refugee learners, to determine what support procedures teachers need to put in place to ensure that they are engaged in education.
There are lessons to be learned for FE and our teaching strategies that I would like to share.
They often need emotional support from their teachers and guidance about how to function in society
My research identified three main elements needed for student success — emotional support, consistency and differentiation.
The first issue, and the most important one is awareness of the emotional needs of the learner and how to be prepared to support them with pastoral matters, as well as educational ones.
For many unaccompanied refugee learners, the only consistent and responsible adult in their lives is their teacher, and this often leads to the teacher being viewed as a parent figure.
For refugees, it is important to remember that their needs go beyond learning English.
They often need emotional support from their teachers and guidance about how to function in society, because they are not just learning a language, they are learning an entirely new culture and way of life, which can be incredibly stressful and frustrating.
When teaching a group of students with complex emotional needs, having a disrupted timetable and constant changes in rooms and teachers can be unsettling to their routine and add further stress to their lives.
Students rely heavily on a consistent timetable and on their teacher being there and available to talk to about any issues.
With the migrant crisis comes long-lasting emotional issues which are inevitably brought into the class.
One student commented that when lessons are particularly challenging for him, it increases his stress and causes physical symptoms, such as severe headaches.
We cannot expect students suffering from PTSD to bounce back as quickly, or in the same manner, from a challenging activity as a non-migrant learner might.
To ensure that students are supported, differentiation is a crucial teaching strategy and should be well planned and executed in a manner which stimulates the students without overwhelming them.
The migrant crisis is not going to go away.
We will continue to see an influx of refugees and asylum seekers into the country, who, provided with the right language and skills, can become self-reliant and valuable members of our society.
By engaging refugee learners in an FE college, we are not just exposing them to the language, but to the culture of education, and bringing them into an environment which offers other courses, such as IT and maths, giving them more opportunities to build their skill set in an environment in which they feel safe and secure.
Despite this initial stage of my research focusing on teenage learners, I shifted to adult refugees and soon realised that the same support needs to be in place for them.
Imagine being a refugee parent with your youngest children just starting school in England, being unaware of how the education system works, or unable to communicate with their teachers about their progress, or what to tell the doctor if your child falls ill.
Many times I have been asked by adult students to explain school or bank letters. Who else would they turn to?
Learning English is not just about learning a language.
It is about teaching citizenship, giving people the ability to find employment to integrate into society, and giving them a chance to start a new life in a country where they feel safe, many of them for the first time in their lives.
With that comes the responsibility to understand the complexity of their situation and the importance of emotional support, consistency and differentiation, because without that understanding, we, as educators, are failing them.