A lack of straightforward, easily accessible information about the UK school system causes confusion and misunderstanding for newly arrived migrant and refugee families, Middlesex University academics have found.
Research revealed parents of school-aged children newly arrived in London often find it difficult to adapt to a system so different from their country of origin. They struggle to understand teaching and the curriculum but also practical things such as school uniforms and class layout. The parent/teacher relationship was also highlighted by both parties as an area of potential confusion and misunderstanding.
The study was part of a wider project - commissioned by the charity Action for Social Integration - to prepare a guidebook to schools in the UK for Black, Minority and Ethnic (BME) and newly arrived parents. The guidebook will be launched at the University on Monday 6 December.
The research team interviewed Local Authority representatives, teachers and parents in eight London boroughs. Dr Louise Ryan, from Middlesex University’s Social Policy Research Centre, said: “When we interviewed the parents, it was striking how confused some of them were, even about the things which we see as the most basic and take for granted. While a lot of information on schooling is available, much of this is not pitched at the right level and assumes quite a high-level of prior understanding of the educational system. Nobody sits them down and really explains it to the parents, which is how our guide is intended to be used.”
In January 2010 there were around 6.5 million pupils in maintained primary and secondary schools in England. Of these, over 1.5 million were of ‘minority ethnic’ origin. A decade ago minority ethnic pupils made up 15 per cent of the school population, while in 2004 they were 18 per cent. They now represent about 24 per cent of the pupils in England.
Dr Ryan said: “One of the things which showed up clearly was the sheer diversity of newly arrived migrants and refugees. Previous waves of migrants tended to cluster in specific areas and education authorities built up particular skills and expertise in responding to the needs of specific ethnic communities. But newly arrived migrants and refugees now tend to be more spread out meaning some schools have to respond to diverse populations of pupils for the first time.”
“In general, we found most parents tend to rely on family and friends for information about schools,” said Dr Ryan. “There’s a huge quantity of information available, from local authorities for example, but it seems some of the more disadvantaged groups are not using it. The key problem doesn’t seem to be a lack of information but a lack of straightforward, easily accessible information.”
The ‘Guide to the British Educational System for BME parents’ aims to help parents make sense of schools and covers everything from parent/teacher relations to bullying, as well as the nuts and bolts of the education system in the UK from nursery to sixth-form. It is hoped, by presenting information in a compact and simple way, it will allow parents to understand the basics about the system and build from there.