Working with refugee students

Disclaimer: This article is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of all Teachers' Christian Fellowship members.

Working with refugee students


Schools play a vital role in supporting students with refugee backgrounds to resettle into a new country. Supportive school cultures can improve students’ mental health and wellbeing, enhance educational outcomes, and promote social connections between families and school communities. Schools are uniquely positioned to support recovery, build resilience, and reduce the vulnerability of students of refugee backgrounds.

Schools, beyond their role in providing education, are well placed to promote social inclusion, support freedom from discrimination, and provide important life and work skills. By taking a wholeschool approach, schools can implement a range of strategies to support these students.


Teachers play a key role in supporting students from refugee backgrounds to reach their academic potential and improve wellbeing outcomes. The impact of teachers provides additional and proactive support to assist students to improve their English language skills. Loneliness and isolation are common feelings for students. The positive impact of teachers and school staff can help students of refugee backgrounds to form new friendships.

Motivating students by providing help can show significant language improvements in as little as a month. In any class, everything depends on the teacher. The way they teach, matters to the students.

In supporting these students, teachers also need to take an approach based on students’ strengths to make informed decisions regarding careers and other future education pathways.


Students from refugee backgrounds benefit from the provision of extra learning support in a school. For example: setting up mentors and homework clubs.

Teachers have an important role to play in creating a classroom environment where students feel confident to participate in class discussions.

Students feel supported in their learning when teachers utilise EAL (English as an Additional Language refers to learners whose first language is not English) strategies, such as using glossaries and visual cues to support written content; hands-on activities and provide students with opportunities to attend excursions.

Students of refugee background may also need additional support to access and use technology.

Students want to be actively involved with their teachers in developing plans to address the gaps in their learning (for example, choosing between modified or unmodified work).

Challenges for schools supporting refugee students

Does your school:

  • celebrate cultural diversity/multiculturalism for example, Harmony Day
  • use learning materials that show people from different cultures
  • believe there is a problem with racism at your school
  • employ a Multicultural Education Aide (MEA)
  • partner with the Refugee Action Support (RAS) Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation to use trained literacy tutors to provide weekly one-to-one or small group support
  • provide information for refugee families to access medical services and programs for immunisations, hearing, sight, oral health, general physical health and mental health
  • assist refugees prepare for when they finish school, for example, work experience, course counselling, career counselling
  • encourage parents/caregivers to interact with the school and speak to the school with an interpreter
  • encourage students to speak up if they feel uncomfortable at school
  • assist teachers/parents to get help
  • inform students about what to do if they feel unsafe/concerned/worried about things?

Support Services and Resources

Supporting Refugee Students – Extensive list of education, health and community support services.

Teaching Strategies for EAL Students – speaking & listening, writing, reading & viewing.

6 Tips for Teaching EAL Pupils

Lyn Searle, Teacher, Chester Hill Intensive Language Centre