War in Ukraine: Helping Children Get Back to Learning

With thousands of Ukrainian refugees now living in the UK, how can schools, communities and host families help children settle into school?
War in Ukraine: Helping Children Get Back to Learning
By Carli Allan
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In March 2022, UNICEF and UNHCR estimated that around half of the refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine were children. That’s over one million children who have had their education disrupted for the second time in three years since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Almost 100,000 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK after fleeing the Russian invasion, and support for Ukrainian refugees is something we are likely to be involved in for many years as the fighting continues in their homeland. Since June 2022, there has been an estimated 11,400 applications for school places for children from Ukraine (7,100 of these were for primary school places and 4,200 were for secondary school).

There are several ways UK residents can help a Ukrainian refugee or family once they arrive in the UK, from donating clothes, food parcels and other essential items to signing up as a host under the Homes For Ukraine government sponsorship scheme, which allows people and organisations in the UK to offer Ukrainians a home. 

All children and young people arriving in UK from Ukraine via the family visa scheme (which enables Ukrainians to join relatives who were already in the UK) or the Home for Ukraine sponsorship programme have the right to access education while they are in the country. 

But what about long-term help, especially for those children who don't understand what is going on and why they've been displaced? And what support is available to help Ukranian refugees return to learning. We share information and advice for schools, communities and host families about how to offer both practical help and a warm welcome to Ukrainian children and their families.

1. Overcoming language barriers
Many Ukranian children without English as their first language face long-term disruption in their education. So, how can you help Ukrainians overcome these language barriers? Where can you find resources to help support children and young people arriving from Ukraine? And where can you learn some basic Ukrainian phrases?

The Department of Education has put together a list of resources that contains information on learning English and settling in. This list includes downloadable and free resources such as Badger Learning’s Dual Language ebooks for children in Key Stages Two and Three, and ILT Education’s digital book service. Oak Academy has auto-translated all of its courses into Ukrainian; The Red Cross has several resources in Ukrainian; and Save the Children has tips about how to talk to children about war.

2. Be prepared for the first day of school
You could speak to the school they will be attending and ask for any advice on what books or subjects they will be learning. Then, speak to the local library to see if they have helpful workbooks on those topics. Also, make sure they have all the equipment they need like the proper uniform, good shoes and coats to cope with the British weather, and plenty of stationery. 

3. Explore the local area
Taking the children and their families to local attractions, events and playgrounds throughout the summer is a great way to help them to get to know the area and feel more at home. Playgrounds are especially useful for children as they encourage social skills, cognitive development and emotional learning.

Also, if you discover that a Ukrainian refugee has a particular hobby or skill they enjoy, like playing the piano, dancing, or painting – encourage it. Our hobbies allow us to express ourselves in ways words can’t. Giving children an outlet they know and love can help them feel more at home overall.

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