Every day in 2015, around 17,000 children fled their homes due to persecution and conflict, according to Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) latest World Report, launched last week. While access to education is crucial for children’s physical and emotional well-being, for those living in emergencies going to school is often an impossible dream.

The report draws on United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR)’s striking data, which shows that while half of the world’s 3.5 million refugee children of primary-school age attend classes, less than a quarter of the 1.95 million secondary-school-aged children have access to education. And it is worse for girls: globally, just seven girls for every 10 refugee boys go to secondary school.

Focus on primary education

While the record number of refugees and internally displaced people around the world has focused attention on the need to ensure that displaced children can enrol in school, humanitarian responses to crises have tended to focus on primary, rather than secondary, education, the report highlights.

An essay published alongside the report is thus entirely devoted to secondary education and examines the specific problems that it has to face in emergencies—especially where conflicts forcibly displace children. It goes on to offer solutions that host countries, donors, and humanitarian actors could adopt to promote and guarantee secondary education in aid-recipient countries affected by crises or large refugee flows.

Funding as problem and solution

At the root of these problems, and solutions, says the essay, are funding and refugee policies. It reveals that globally, less than two percent of donor support goes to education in emergencies; of that, far more goes to primary than secondary education. Also, it finds that inadequate resources coincide with restrictive refugee host-country policies that often hit children hardest just as they become adolescents.

As a response to the refugee crisis the NUT has created a hub for refugee teaching resources, booklists and useful websites which have been developed, used and shared by teachers for teachers. 

The website includes downloadable classroom resources, useful websites and booklists for primary and secondary age pupils.  

The website continues to grow as more teachers send in their materials to share with others. Further refugee related classroom or assembly resources may be share with other teachers by sending it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Below are some examples of the resources currently available on the hub:

  • Lesson ideas across the curriculum
  • Resources for refugee week 
  • How to organise a Refugee Poetry Competition
  • Books for primary
  • Books for secondary

The NUT (England and Wales) has produced a Guide for schools entitled ‘Welcoming Refugee Children to Your School’.  It can be downloaded from the NUT website or printed copies are available by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The Guide advocates a whole school community approach which includes students and parents as well as teachers.  It focuses on treating all children with a ‘can do’ approach, building the child’s sense of identity and self-esteem rather than looking at what a child cannot do. 

The key principles of effective practice for teachers new to teaching refugee children set out in the guide are:

  • A ‘can do’ approach focussed on children’s strengths;
  • Getting communication with parents right;
  • Active steps to counter prejudice about refugees;
  • The host children are central to creating refugee-friendly schools;
  • Understand the impact of trauma, separation, bereavement or post-traumatic stress;
  • Celebrate the contribution made to your school community by new arrivals; and
  • Take a child-centred approach.


The AFT's "Immigrant and Refugee Children: A Guide for Educators and School Support Staff" includes both background information on immigration— especially for refugee asylum seekers crossing the border from Mexico—and practical advice for families threatened by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immigration raids, deportation and detention.

The guide outlines basic facts about immigration, including why so many young people have moved to the U.S. from Central America—many are fleeing gang violence, crime and human trafficking; others are trying to reconnect with family members already living in the U.S. It quantifies the movement: Since 2014, more than 100,000 unaccompanied children have sought refuge in the United States, primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The guide describes what an ICE raid can be like: large groups of armed agents who sometimes come with no warrant in predawn hours and sometimes target youth whose status has changed because they have recently turned 18. It explains what happens if someone is arrested, using a step-by-step "home raid-to-deportation map" to describe the process.

Relevant immigration law also is outlined in the guide: For example, it explains that ICE is prohibited from raids on school property, at hospitals, during funerals, weddings and other public religious ceremonies, and at public demonstrations; and it notes that schools are prohibited from providing information from a student's file to federal immigration agents without a parent's consent.

But most useful are the guide's practical tools for those who want to help. "Creating a safe space where students can come to you for support and advice is the best thing you can do for your students," it tells educators. Informing students and their families of their rights is one of the most important directives, and the guide provides a list of "What to do if ICE comes to your door," which can be posted. Among the advice: Don't open the door because agents must have a warrant. Don't speak without first consulting an attorney.

Other suggestions for educators include:

  • Work with parents to develop a family immigration-raid emergency plan. (Who will take care of the children? Save money for attorney fees.)
  • Provide a safe place for students to wait if a parent or sibling has been detained.
  • Provide counseling for students who have had a family member detained.
  • Maintain a list of resources such as pro bono attorneys, immigration advocates and social workers.

Other suggestions include issuing statements condemning the raids; writing letters to the Department of Homeland Security in support of individual students who have been detained; and adopting school and district resolutions to protect students from ICE agents on school campuses, to treat students equitably and to train teachers on how to deal with immigration issues. These are practical steps to fight back against the attacks that are eroding the trust that educators work hard to build with the students and families they serve.

The "Immigrant and Refugee Children" guide was developed by the AFT in partnership with United We Dream, the National Immigration Law Center and First Focus.


The Alberta Teachers' Association has produced in partnership with the Canadian Multicultural Education Foundation, a series of teaching resources to support immigrant and refugee students. Each guide focuses on a specific community (Arab, Karen, Somali and South Sudanese students). It provides teachers with information concerning the students' cultural background and suggestions to adapt lessons to these students' specific needs. It also includes an orientation guide to Canadian schools for newcomer parents in their own language.

The guides can be downloaded as PDF: