Education is the key: Why we work with children from refugee backgrounds

We want children in Battersea and across Wandsworth to flourish in their education. In the run up to our Christmas Appeal next week, we wanted to share some of the reasons why we continue to work with children from refugee backgrounds and their families.

Simply put they are not fulfilling their potential at school. For example, only 49% of Somali pupils achieve 5 good GCSEs (peer group: 59.2%) – ‘All pupils outperform Somali pupils in all indicators, across KS3 and significantly in KS5’ (Wandsworth report, 2013). The Somali community in Battersea is the third largest BAME community in Wandsworth, and our Love to Learn team’s biggest client group. Refugee young people are substantially behind at every educational Key Stage, which can result in low attainment levels, frustration, challenging behaviour, risk of exclusion and restricted opportunities in life/employment.

This is due to refugee young people having: low levels of English (esp. vocabulary); interrupted schooling; possible traumatic experiences before arrival; lack of home learning support; not understanding the UK systems (e.g. education); low confidence; racism, bullying and stereotyping (increased by anti-immigration climate); limited experiences outside school/home; lack of aspiration; Special Education Needs not being addressed; and more. (KLS, 2013, 2017; internal evaluations of KLS’ Love to Learn programme; Big Local SW11 2014-15; 2018; Wandsworth JSNA 2017/18; London Poverty Profile, 2020).

This is further exacerbated by multiple disadvantage faced by their parents and home situation including high unemployment; poverty; living in overcrowded housing (vulnerable to eviction and welfare reform); parents not able to help children with homework (illiterate themselves or unable to speak English); suffer from physical or mental health problems (often caused by exposure in war); be single mothers with larger families; lack time or access to childcare; have low confidence (particularly dealing with authority); be under stress from dealing with immigration etc. As well as pressures on schools, education and youth services have been severely reduced by austerity budget cuts. (Allsopp et al, 2014; Center for the Study of Democracy, 2012; Grayson, 2013; Hastings, 2012; KLS, 2014, 2017; NALDIC, 2014; Refugee Council, 2013; Strand et al, 2011).

Building trust

Regular contact with a young person and their family, through our Love to Learn services, allows us to develop a trusting relationship. Our work is long-term and holistic. So young people benefit, but their parents/carers/siblings do too. They can access our services, such as our Homework Clubs, Learning Mentors or can be supported by our caseworkers with education related issues, such as SEN and exclusions through advocacy and school meetings. In addition, we support families to access other services through supported referrals to: housing, benefits advice, debt, legal services, counselling and domestic violence support. Therefore, using our L2L services has a wider, long-term impact on the wellbeing of the family as a whole and the achievement of the young people.

Inequality in Battersea

We’re based in the heart of Battersea. Although in modern times it is known for its wealth, Battersea remains characterised by economic inequality, with large social housing estates surrounded by more prosperous areas. Latchmere and Queenstown wards, where KLS focuses much of its work, rank in the most economically deprived 15% of the UK and over 40% of children live in a family dependent on income-related benefits (Census, 2011; London Poverty Profile, 2020; Wandsworth JSNA, 2017/18; Wandsworth Public Health Latchmere Ward profile, 2018).

Increased hardship during the Covid-19 pandemic – the evidence 

Distressingly, 1 in 3 children in Wandsworth are living in poverty. Covid-19 has only made their challenges that much greater.

There is strong evidence that interruption to education has a profound negative impact on the wellbeing, development and future success of children and young people. In Belgium, for example, a two-month teachers’ strike in 1990 left affected students more likely to repeat a grade and less likely to complete higher education. (Do Teacher Strikes Harm Educational Attainment of Students, Belot & Webbink, 2010). There is extensive research and evidence on the impact summer holidays on learning and wellbeing. With the six-week holidays contributing to 66% of the attainment gap between disadvantaged young people and their more affluent peers by the time they are 14. This results in young people from low-income families facing a stagnation and decline of learning. Their health and wellbeing is adversely affected by this lack of enriching experiences, as well as malnourishment, isolation and extended periods of inactivity.

In Wandsworth 36% of children live in poverty, putting it in the highest 25% of deprivation across London (London Poverty Profile, 2020). We know that many of the refugee young people served by our Love to Learn education team sit within this group. During lockdown we know their situations have worsened. With little access to technology these young people are not only missing out on engaging with education, but are also being socially isolated without creative or educational stimulus. We also know that many of our young people have not left their homes during lockdown, even for exercise.

Evidence from our young people

The evidence we’ve gathered from our young people and their families during the pandemic shows are experiencing a number of difficult things, especially the extra hardships that they have faced as a result of the pandemic.

  • All those attending our Love to Learn education services in social housing. There parents and carers are on a very low incomes.
  • The majority (88%) of L2L parents have either lost work or their work has been put on indefinite hold with no pay, putting the whole family in extreme financial hardship. They are having to rely on foodbanks and other support from the community.
  • Two families have been infected with the virus leaving teenage children to care for their parents and younger siblings. Unfortunately we’ve had some deaths too.
  • Many young people live in overcrowded housing, sharing beds with siblings and parents, which increases the challenges of lockdown.
  • Our staff and volunteers have seen young people (face-to-face and online) and been concerned for the mental health and their general wellbeing for a variety of reasons, including young people being given a lot of responsibilities in the home (e.g. cleaning, cooking), being neglected, spending hours in bed, spending significant unsupervised time on phones and tablets.
  • We are seeing the adverse impact of social isolation and mental ill-health.
  • Abuse, controlling and abusive family dynamics have been magnified, leaving children vulnerable.

Evidence from our parents and women’s group 

Our recent parent’s workshops and women’s group in particular have highlighted:

  • Parents are finding it hard to cope with difficulty of maintaining routines, managing behaviour and keeping to children’s sleep routines. This impacts on their own and their children’s mental health.
  • Parents are not able or are scared to take their children outside and return to normality. This is often due to having vulnerable people living in the household.
  • Young people are struggling to fully engage with their learning. They do not have the equipment or digital access necessary.

Evidence from our community partners

Our relationships with other community organisations and education providers have raised similar concerns on the impact of the pandemic on children and young people including:

  • Increased poverty.
  • Increased anxiety and mental health issues among young people.
  • Significant reduction in physical activity.
  • Young people finding it difficult to socially engage with friends and peers face to face due to essentially being out of practice – lockdown isolation completely removed person to person contact outside the family unit.
  • Young people’s English has deteriorated due spending increased time in the home where English isn’t widely spoken.

Love to Learn makes a real difference 

All of this means we need to step up and do more. Our Love to Learn education programme has been making a difference to the lives of local children since 2004. We support them to flourish in education by providing a range of educational services and support including advocacy and advice, homework support through learning mentors and clubs, parent workshops and supported referrals. We run a popular holiday programme (esp. during the summer) – getting young people out and about with camping, sports and residentials. We liaise with schools, social services, other community organisations to ensure that families access appropriate and targeted support for their needs.

Double your donation

We need your help to do more. Next week from Tuesday 1st December you can make a donation and have it DOUBLED. So if you give £10, we get £20. If you also add ‘Gift Aid’ we get another 25% on top of your donation. DONATE HERE (open from 1st December).

Thank you, in advance, for giving the gift of a brighter future to so many local children!!! 

Support our family

We are committed to building stronger communities and enabling people to challenge themselves and find ways out of isolation through our varied community projects. There are so many ways you can support our work and help us to deliver our services to even more people.

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