Child refugees: One school’s international solution for new arrivals

While schools and councils across the country deal with the challenge of mid-term arrivals, officials in the London borough of Wandsworth can call upon the expertise of one institution thanks to a scheme set up a decade ago.

At Southfields academy, an “international group” takes responsibility for all child refugees who arrive in the south London borough. All the 22 children from the Calais camp allocated to the area will go to Southfields, which specialises in teaching foreign pupils.

The group was set up to allow the school to easily accept additional pupils at critical points in their education, regardless of when in the school year they arrive. This solves the problems faced by other schools when, for example, year 11 children arrive shortly before their GCSEs.

“It’s a bit different for us,” said principal Jackie Valin. “We’re a bit of an anomaly in that we have an international group and we take any child who comes into our authority whenever they turn up.

“We became the designated school for pupils from abroad, and we have quite a lot of experts in teaching them.

We don’t call them refugees. We don’t call them ‘[Calais] Jungle children’. They are the international group in our school

“We don’t call them refugees. We don’t call them ‘[Calais] Jungle children’. They are the international group in our school.”

The international group usually has about 150 children supported across five classes, with pupils grouped on their grasp of English and not their age.
Numbers vary throughout the year – the school had 20 pupils start in its international group in September, and now has 120, including pupils from Somalia and Eritrea.

The school has so far taken two children from the Calais camp this year, and is expecting a further 20, but leaders have no idea whether they are yet in the country.

“We don’t know where they are at this moment. I am still expecting 22, it’s just that most are not here yet,” Valin said.

She praised Wandsworth council for the “vision” that established the international group 10 years ago, and called for the model to be replicated across England.

“Wandsworth may be unique,” she said. “If other authorities had had that vision we probably wouldn’t have as many problems. I think the model would work well elsewhere.”

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