Many of those we welcome from Ukraine will be families – potentially women and children who have left partners behind to support the war effort. One of the most important things sponsors and their support group will be doing is supporting families to transition children into new schools here in the UK. Through schools, friendships are made, and communities are formed.  Research has shown that integrating children into school quickly is one of the most effective ways to support resettlement.  Schools provide children with routine, friendships and the chance to play, as well as continuing access to education.  For adults in the family, ensuring their children settle into school is a huge thing.  If children are settled into a routine, they will have the space to settle themselves – to find work, navigate the support and benefits system, obtain further education and crucially, to recover from the trauma they may have experienced.   We’ve seen families thrive in Hertfordshire because of the new friendships and communities that schools bring – where lasting networks have been made that support them as they move beyond resettlement into building an independent life in the area.

There are some practical things that sponsors, or support groups, can do to support the process of finding and settling into school.

Research your local education provision in advance.

Firstly, if you are thinking of sponsoring/supporting a family with children, do some research about the education provision in your area to be sure it is appropriate and available.  Consider the ages of the children/young adults you might welcome and what education provision exists for these age groups.

  • For younger children, check out the nursery or preschool provision, what is it like and how far away is it?  Parents may need access to childcare so that they can work or study themselves.  Some primary schools also have preschools which might be easier if there are children across the age range, in other cases you may need to check out local nursery providers.
  • For primary age children, a school within walking distance of your home is ideal – if not, one where there is easy public transport links or opportunities for lift sharing.
  • For young adults, consider proximity to secondary schools – how close are the nearest schools, do other children in your neighbourhood attend the school (s), is there good school transport with stops close to your home?
  • For those in further education consider what subjects or courses they are studying in Ukraine and what options are available to them at local sixth form or further education colleges.

You may well be familiar with the school choices from having children yourself or this may be new to you. Hertfordshire County Council provides a useful page on their website to locate schools in your area.

Once you know more about the schools available, do some research on their websites. If you have made a match with a family, you could send them links to school websites or a copy of the prospectus so that they become familiar with the choices available to them when they arrive.

Make contact with Hertfordshire County Council and your local school/preschool.

School admissions are handled by the Local Authority, in our case Hertfordshire County Council.  They are acting as the key coordinator for all Ukrainians arriving as part of the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.  Let the Admissions team know you will be welcoming a family. They will be able to advise you about schools in your area.

The Admissions team also provide resources to support school transportation requirements.  They can advise on eligibility and criteria for school transport if the local school is not within reasonable walking distance. This can be a key factor to consider if you live in a remote part of the county!  You can access their guidance here.

You could contact your local schools in advance to see if they have spaces, to find out if they have experience welcoming families through resettlement or other schemes or if they have worked with children with English as an Additional Language (known as EAL).

Support your family to learn more about local school provision

When your guests arrive, support them to learn more about the local school provision.  Talk to them about the English school system and arrange a visit for them to look at the local schools.  If they are not English speakers, it may be worth reaching out to a community network to see if someone can translate key school information documents.

It is important that families are aware of the preferences they have.  In some areas school preference will be limited due to the rural nature of our county or the availability of school places in a specific school. Please note that there is pressure on school places in Hertfordshire, so it may not be possible to secure a place in one of your preferred schools. In other areas there may be a choice of schools or preschools within walking distance.  It is important that families understand they can make decisions about the school (s) they feel will best welcome and support their children.

Help your guests to make appointments to visit potential schools, colleges or nurseries.  A visit is crucial – it will provide families with a sense of how a school feels and how their children will be supported to settle initially and to thrive longer term. Encourage the family to ask questions about the support their children will receive and how the school operates.  These could include:

  • What are the school’s vision and values (this can tell you a lot about the feel or aspiration of a school)?
  • Who will be their point of communication and how will communication work?
  • How will children be supported in an unfamiliar environment or when they encounter challenging situations – what pastoral support is in place?
  • What will they be taught and how will they be taught it (class sizes, lesson length, additional support available)?
  • If the children do not speak English or they have limited English, how will the children be supported with language development?
  • What extracurricular activities (sports, music, drama for example) does the school offer – how does this support existing interests their children might have?

It may be useful to spend time with them thinking about questions in advance.  School visits can be overwhelming, especially with everything else going on during the resettlement process.  Time is precious in the first few days of resettling and families can arrive exhausted and traumatised.  But in most cases, the sooner decisions can be made about schools and places allocated, the quicker children can settle and make friends.

Applying for a school place

Applications for school places are coordinated through Hertfordshire County Council’s School Admissions team using an online portal.

If you have any queries or require more information, please email ukraine.ukschooladmissions@hertfordshire.gov.uk

Ahead of application, Admissions advise applicants to:

  • Research local schools and be aware of the designated schools in your area
  • Visit local schools and find out what they can offer
  • Be aware of the availability of school transport and the criteria for eligibility – if school transport isn’t available how close is the school in terms of walking, cycling or will there be requirements for own transport/lift provision
  • Double check whether the school the family wish to apply for takes direct applications (this is unusual in Hertfordshire but there are some Academies that take applications directly rather than through Hertfordshire County Council’s School Admissions process)

There is an online form to complete – after which Hertfordshire will process the application and notify the family and the school when a place has been allocated.

The practicalities of starting nursery/preschool/school/college

For any child, starting school can be exciting, a time of opportunity but also a time of apprehension.  Make sure your family are aware of key school policies and information before the first day:

  • What time does school start and end?
  • How the children will get to school (bus stops, walking routes, car) and, for younger children, how does ‘drop off’ work (in the playground, taking children into the classroom for example)?
  • For younger children – how they will be greeted on their first day, what is their teacher’s name and the names of other key staff working with them?
  • For young adults – where do they go on their first day, who is their tutor or key point of contact, when will they be given a timetable?
  • What is the uniform or school dress code? What about sports kit?
  • What school supplies will children be expected to have or typically have?
  • What about school lunches – are they provided, what is the menu, would a packed lunch be more appropriate, for older children how does the café or school lunch process work?
  • For older children, what are the rules around technology and mobile phones!

Being prepared for the first day is so important.  Small things like having the right uniform or stationery can have a huge impact on how younger children settle, as can understanding the norms and social expectations for those attending secondary or further education provision.

Think about how you support your family to prepare.  You may have many generous offers of support from the local community – offers of uniform, books, bags etc.  Consider whether funding new supplies and uniform would be more appropriate – sometimes people are grateful for ‘hand me downs’ but sometimes arriving with your own kit can be important to children and young adults.  Local fund raising could support vouchers for supplies which may be more sensitive than providing everything through donations.  Ensure the family have the time and space to shop for the supplies – be on hand to help them or do much of the shopping if they wish – but ensure they take the lead.

If you know of other local families whose children attend the same school, it may be worth introducing them before the first day.  Sometimes a familiar face can make all the difference – maybe walking to school together or having a point of contact during the day.

Ongoing communications and support

As with all children, there will be ups and downs in their school life.  Some days will go well and on others they may encounter challenges.  Be sure that the family know where to turn if things are not going well – children may have experienced significant trauma, and this may impact how they respond to situations in school.  Be there to support them to access the resources they need and reassure them that schools are used to supporting children through a range of life situations – keeping in touch with school and ensuring that staff are aware of the challenges young people are facing is important.

There are charities that provide resources and support relating to education matters and resettled families.

Refugee Education UK Education – provides resources for families and providers and is launching a helpline to support Ukrainian resettlement

Oak National Academy – is the virtual school set up by the DfE to support remote learning during Covid lockdowns.  There are plans in place to translate lessons into Ukrainian to support families arriving in the UK

Schools in this area are known for their warm welcome and community spirit.  With the right preparation and planning, schools can provide the structure and support to enable young people to thrive and can be the gateway for the whole family to integrate independently into their local community.