‘Be a friend’: welcome to Liverpool Primary schools in Liverpool welcome newly arrived refugee children. Many arrive without skills in English and may also have little or no experience of formal schooling. When children arrive in school they may also be disorientated and socially isolated. To integrate and feel a sense of belonging to the school and local community, children need support with making friends and developing positive relationships. The ‘Be a friend’ project The ‘Be a friend’ project built on existing good practice in many Liverpool schools, such as initiatives developed by school and pupil councils that had established buddy schemes, peer mentoring and peer advocacy programmes. It also complemented work being undertaken by schools across the city to raise awareness about why refugees were living in Liverpool and to create greater understanding and empathy. ‘Be a friend’ was developed initially in nine primary schools. The project trained and supported pupils who volunteered to act as ‘class friends’ to newly arrived refugee children. It involved the following: • Preparing all pupils for the arrival of refugee children through awareness raising activities • Organising training sessions for pupils who volunteered to be ‘class friends’. The training helped them understand some of the anxieties that refugee children may feel when they join a school, and ways that they could provide friendship and support. ‘Class friends’ were also given advice on how to refer to teachers and other practitioners, if new refugee children reported bullying or child protection concerns • Providing all ‘class friends’ with a special badge. The role of the ‘class friend’ was to: • Greet newly arrived refugee children. The ‘class friend’ would introduce him or herself to the new child and learn the correct pronunciation of the child’s name. The new child was helped to learn and remember the name of the ‘class friend’ • Accompany the new child to their class and introduce him or her to children, teachers and other adults • Help the new child to become familiar with daily routines, the school environment and locate key places, such as toilets • Sit with the new child in the classroom, during assembly and at lunchtime • Introduce the new child to friends and activities during playtimes. Participating schools identified a member of staff to oversee the project and to ensure that ‘class friends’ could access support and advice if required. Benefits and positive outcomes ‘When someone comes to our school, we can make them feel welcome.’ Rochelle ‘When it comes to play time and they have no one to play with, you would go over and ask them if they want to play with you.’ Philip The ‘Be a friend’ project had a positive impact on the self-esteem and motivation of newly arrived refugee children. Many children managed to achieve good school attendance and made excellent progress in their work. With the security and support of the ‘class friend’, children found it easier to develop other friendships. Having friendships has also helped children to show resilience and cope better with their difficult experiences. The project improved the inclusion and integration of refugee families in the schools and communities. Families felt more comfortable about approaching schools, which have become valued points of contact and sources of advice and information. The ‘class friends’ too developed valuable skills and responsibilities. Many children also used their home languages and this expertise was recognised and affirmed by their schools. Pupils and staff in many schools, including those with fewer pupils from minority ethnic groups, have developed a better understanding and awareness of the needs of refugee children and families. Further development The ‘Be a friend’ project is being sustained in the primary schools where it was piloted. Schools manage the project themselves, with support and guidance from the Ethnic Minority and Traveller Achievement Service. A group of ‘class friends’ from Smithdown Primary School also attended a conference, The World in One School, organised by LASAR and the Dingle Granby Toxteth EAZ. The children facilitated a workshop designed to support schools that wished to develop similar strategies.
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