Published: 17 Nov 2021  |  Category: Education  |  Stage: We are preparing for a family to arrive

Preparing Families for the British education system

Learn how to support parents and children’s integration into the UK’s education system

Although all schools, Community Sponsorship Groups, parents and children are different, there are many similarities in the way in which school impacts on all families in the UK. Whilst Community Sponsorship Groups will have identified those within the team who have experience in education to prepare schools and support a family, it is important to empower the parents or guardians to establish a strong relationship with their children’s schools and feel responsible for and involved in their children’s education.

There can be quite nuanced differences between the education system that families have experienced previously and that in the UK. Differences of emphasis, expectations and roles and responsibilities can be difficult to translate and can lead to misunderstandings. The family will have received some information about the UK education system before they come to the UK. After they arrive in the UK, the family will be bombarded with information and the children’s school and the UK education system will be just one of the many subjects the family will need to learn about quickly.

It is worth bearing in mind that much of the initial information you give the family will need to be returned to many times in the first year of support and beyond, as children move through the education system.

Key points for parents or guardians

Some common challenges that Community Sponsorship Groups regarding preparing parents/guardians the UK’s education system have faced are:

  • The ethos of the education system: education systems around the world differ school culture. In the UK, primary students might learn through play, or Secondary students will have periods of self-led study. Prepare the family for what UK schools are like, perhaps there’s someone in your Group who has children at the same school who can share their experience.
  • The school/home relationship: many Groups have found that parents are used to a strict separation between home and school. In the UK, both are interconnected and parents will need to learn about their responsibilities in relation to parents evenings, homework and communication with the school.
  • How and when to communicate with the school: many schools will use a system like Parentmail, or similar, to communicate with parents. You can speak with the parents and the school and assign one member of your Group to also have access to their account/be a recipient of school-based communication. This is not to respond to requests on behalf of the family but to flag different announcements and help them to understand their obligations. Other reasons that parents will be expected to communicate with schools are to report a child’s absence, if the school has concerns, disciplinary actions or other academic activities such as reading diaries.
  • Applying for school places: in addition to explaining deadlines and helping with the application to move from primary to secondary school, you can explain how catchment areas override parental choice, and how this affects all students in the UK.
  • The role of the school: talk to parents about how the school might be involved in safeguarding, school attendance and health checks.
  • The importance of relevant school policies: explain what they are and how to access them e.g. behaviour, rewards, religious education, food, uniform, celebrations.
  • An understanding of possible costs: this could include educational visits, workshops, mufti days, fund-raising for the school and charity fund-raising.
  • School curriculum and delivery: the use of a cross-curricular approach, group tasks, independent learning, use of multi-media, after-school clubs, assemblies, team teaching, specialist teachers, teaching assistants, mixed gender classes, additional support groups.
  • School trips – some schools will have trips where students go away from the school for a day and sometimes overnight; students usually need parental permission to attend. We’ve heard from Groups that some families can be nervous about their children being away from them, so be prepared to help address concerns if needed.

Key points for children

It’s also important to communicate directly with children about what to expect in school, no matter their age.  Adapting an empowerment approach to working with resettled children is essential in helping them to adjust to their new school. Some key points to go over with them and revisit from time to time will be:

  • An explanation that school and parents will work together to support them: as is the case for their parents, the children you support may be used to a strict school/home divide. Children should know that they won’t be expected to get used to their new environment on their own but that they are supported by your Group, their new school and their parents  
  • A very simple explanation of the school’s rules and code of behaviour: you can work with the school to remind the children what is and is not allowed and how they are expected to behave towards their classmates and teachers.
  • A visual representation of a typical school day: we all get used to a routine quite quickly, but it can help children entering a new environment to know what to expect each day. You can work with schools and parents to make a timetable to keep at home.
  • An opportunity to learn about playtime and lunchtime: what behaviour is expected, for example, no rough physical contact.
  • An introduction to playground/field games: what are the “unwritten” rules of peer behaviour?
  • A visit to the school during the school day: this can provide an opportunity to observe how boys and girls learn together and what a busy classroom looks like. Be sure to give them an opportunity to ask questions.
  • Introduction to key people on the school staff: they must know who they can go to with concerns and the different grown-ups they may come across.
  • An understanding of how school lunches operate: explain what food choices there are, if the children are Muslim, they may need to eat the vegetarian option if halal meat cannot be guaranteed. Also go over the importance of queuing for your meal!
  • Toilet facilities: it will be important for the children to know what the toilet facilities are like and how and when they can access them.
  • An explanation that there is no physical punishment in UK schools: they should know that although there is no physical punishment there are always consequences for any inappropriate behaviour and an explanation of the form that could take. The children are likely to have come from a school system with corporal punishment and may see discipline measures in the UK as less of a deterrent.
  • Help them to reflect on differences: it may be useful to get the children to describe their previous school and draw comparisons with their new ones.

As a Group, talk to the family about how you can support them and how they would like to be supported; some Groups will run homework clubs for students in a family, or work with the school on an induction plan for both students and parents.

Gill Bonner, a member of a Community Sponsorship Group in South West London, has lent her experience as an educator and Group member to create this resource.

Further resources