Professional learning and resources

Teachers and schools play an important role in supporting students from refugee backgrounds to recover from traumatic experiences and make up for lost time as a result of disrupted education.

Professional learning

Professional learning programs to assist staff working with students from refugee backgrounds include:

S.T.A.R.S. in Schools: supporting students from refugee backgrounds is a 5 hour NESA accredited professional learning course which supports schools in the successful resettlement of students from refugee backgrounds. Based on the STARS framework (Safety, Trust, Awareness, Responsibility and Skills), this professional learning will assist school staff in responding with sensitivity and awareness to provide effective teaching, learning and wellbeing strategies.

Teaching students from a refugee background is a 20 hour NESA accredited professional learning program that helps classroom teachers K-12 develop the skills and knowledge to effectively teach students from refugee backgrounds in mainstream classrooms. It also outlines specialist personnel, external agencies, training programs and resources available to support students. Trained facilitators can assist in delivering training for schools.

MyPL Link (5 hours NESA accredited e-learning)

Website resource

The Classrooms of Possibility (staff only) website resource has been developed by academics from UTS in collaboration with the NSW Department of Education. The site provides professional learning resources based on the research 'Classrooms of Possibility: Working with students from refugee backgrounds in mainstream classes'. These resources can support primary and high school teachers who are working in mainstream classes with recently arrived EAL/D students, including those from refugee backgrounds. A series of videos demonstrate different elements of EAL/D pedagogy in the classroom with accompanying discussion questions, suggestions for professional learning activities and further professional readings. Please note the videos can only be used in professional learning for teachers and researchers. In no circumstances should they be used for commercial purposes.

Orientation for School Learning Support Officers (SLSO) Bilingual has been designed for experienced and new SLSO bilingual staff, school staff and supervisors. The course introduces the importance of the SLSO bilingual role in supporting newly arrived students and their families. The course has been designed to be delivered by a school based facilitator.

A range of EAL/D professional learning opportunities are available to support teachers in meeting the needs of EAL/D learners including newly arrived students and students from refugee backgrounds.

Teacher networks

The EAL/D NSW statewide staffroom and designated Refugee student support channel provides a trusted, online space for teachers of EAL/D and refugee background students to connect, share ideas, ask questions, access resources and participate in professional learning.

Join our staffroom today

Refugee Education Networks facilitate professional and collegial support to primary and secondary school staff to develop strategies, share ideas, seek advice and build resources as a community of schools. The STARTTS School Liaison Team and the Refugee Student Counselling Support Team collaborate with network coordinators to strengthen links with other schools, settlement services and local community organisations.

Networks facilitate collaboration through meetings once a term in 7 locations across NSW:

  • Albury

  • Bankstown, Canterbury, Strathfield

  • Cumberland

  • Fairfield, Cowpasture

  • Glenfield and Liverpool

  • North West and Western Sydney

  • Wagga Wagga.

At times meetings may also be held via online forums when face to face meetings are not possible.

Further information

Contact the EAL/D Education Leader for your network for more information on how to join.

Alternatively connect with the Refugee Student Education Advisor on 0436 522 021 or

Department resources

The following resources support planning, teaching and learning in refugee education:

Learn more about whole school approaches to supporting students from refugee backgrounds in the following case study videos.

A case study from Blacktown Girls High School


Peter Flowers, Principal, Blacktown Girls High School

Nazmin Dean, Science teacher

Nerida Cracknell, Learning and Support Team, Blacktown Girls High School

Karin Harrison, ESL Teacher, Blacktown Girls High School

Jacquie Browne, ESL Teacher, Refugee Transition Program

Nazim: Girls, hurry up, unpack, let's go.

[Happy music and classroom noise]

I want you to take my information, what I've got and turn it into the PowerPoint for viruses.

Narrator: In recent years schools have been enrolling increasing numbers of refugee students who have had very little previous schooling. They're the diseases, the different disease types, ok.

Peter: At Blacktown Girl's High School we've got 45 identified refugee student and another 35 who are students with refugee-like experiences so it's quite a considerable proportion of our student population. Can everyone open PowerPoint please?

Nazmin: To give instructions to that particular group, I focus on giving very short brief explanation and then explaining it in several different ways to individual students as I go around.

(In class) That's a virus. A virus.

But to give the whole class one big explanation that goes on for 5, 10 minutes, I'll lose them.

(In class) So one disease for a virus and one disease for, so Athlete's Foot?

So I need to give short instructions at the beginning to get them started and then go around individually.

(In class) What's the real name for Chickenpox?

Student: Chickenpox?

Nazim: No, Varicella Zoster.

Narrator: Many refugee students need time and considerable support before they can progress in their learning at school in Australia.

Nazim: First page of your powerpoint should be diseases.

Narrator: They often find the transition to high school particularly challenging.

Nazim: You can make the background any colour you like.

[slow piano music]

Nerida: About 5 years ago, we started to receive girls who didn't have a lot of education in their first language, and so this really changed a lot of things for the teachers in our school and they would come and they'd say: "I have the most beautiful kids but they can't write anything, they're not even holding the pen, what can we do to help them?"

Teacher: It can be at the blister stage.

Peter: That's the information you need I believe that's it's very important for all the staff to get to know the students really well and to know the backgrounds.

Karin: It's also really important to understand how much schooling they've had and how proficient they are in their own language.

Peter: We're really looking at getting the important information on each student and then making sure that the rest of the staff are aware of that information and can actually use it in their teaching.

Karin: When students first come to the school, we do a little bit of assessment in terms of their oracy and their writing ability and that's really important because it establishes the amount of ESL support they get. It helps teachers to understand if there are any issues with trauma.

Nazim: So Chickenpox is a common childhood disease, what does that mean? So, are we all doing Chickenpox?

Peter: We believe very strongly in individualised learning and really the staff get to know their students as quickly as possible and then teach towards those individual needs.

[piano music]

Nazim: Good, excellent.

Narrator: Teachers realised that they had to make the girls feel safe at school, before they could focus on their learning.

Nazim: Maria, I'd love you to tell me what you are doing.

Narrator: The STARS Model was introduced to the school.

Jacquie: The STARS Model provides a really clear framework to make sure that the students in my classroom feel safe, welcome and comfortable in undertaking learning experiences…really interested in stuff that is going on in your own world.

Narrator: STARS stands for Safety, Trust, Attachment, Responsibility and Skills.

Nazim: Good. Do you like it when people do that to you?

Karin: We set up a buddy system on day one when students arrive and those students show them where everything is, introduce them to key people at the school. All this goes towards developing trust.

Jacquie: The need for trust is, I think, enormous, particularly when working with refugee students when things in their lives have perhaps not been reliable or kind. And I think that's something that needs to come into the way that I actually facilitate the learning that happens. So building trust is something that doesn't just happen at the click of a finger, it's something that happens over time. – Karin: And the first one? What's it's name? The name, good. Psychological trauma and anxiety and stress hinders the development of language acquisition. Certainly for our refugee students who have experienced some very traumatic experiences that impacts on their ability to develop good language skills.

Nazim: I've asked for symptoms and treatment. I've put lots of information on here, but do you need all of it?

Student: No.

Jacquie: When i observed her in class she was very very quiet, almost introverted.

Narrator: Teachers meet regularly to discuss their students. This helps them to plan and differentiate their teaching.

Teacher: She started to truant from school and we thought it was very out of character. And her mum was very worried. This is why I think it's so important that she's part of your program. We want to try and find a way that she connects with some of the other students.

Jacquie: Girls, welcome to the magazine project.

Narrator: Blacktown Girl's High School established a transition program for a small group of refugee students. The teacher, Jacquie Browne, developed a teaching and learning program based on a 'Rich Task'.

Jacquie: Rich Tasks tend to be collaborative. They usually involve experiential learning. They work towards an authentic end product. Sometimes they're problem-based so they might include skills and content knowledge from different curriculum areas. The Magazine Project is actually going to have lots of different parts to it. They really are somethings that provides deep and substantive learning for students that is engaging, interesting, challenging and real world and that's what makes them Rich. We're going to write articles. We're going to take photos. We're going to have people come from outside of school, from Total Girl magazine to meet you. The Magazine Project is a Rich Task that centred around developing a magazine for new girls arriving at Blacktown Girls' High School.

Narrator: Before she could design her teaching program, Jacquie gathered a lot of information about the students.

Jacquie: Her behaviour in class that I observed was actually quite confronting at times.

Karin: A lot of it is to cover up her difficulty in learning. The more we know about them, the more sensitive we can be to their needs and to their culture.

Teacher: She reacts very quickly.

Jacquie: Yes, she's very reactive.

Teacher: And then when you slow down and give her a lot of information, she then will think about it and then be part of what you're doing. But her first reaction is "NO".

Jacquie: Ok, so she's on the defensive quickly.

Teacher: All the time, so she likes steps.

Jacquie: Ok, so the scaffolding is going to be really important for her. In planning learning for students from a refugee background, our priority is knowing all about the students that I'm going to be teaching. So for example, I rely on my colleagues in our Learning Support Team for anecdotal information about the individual students that I'll be working with and that often includes information about their family. And my first instinct was, she's not picked up a pen before and I could see that she was quite anxious. But I also use things such as their NAPLAN data if it's available, real work samples that they're doing in a variety of their classes.

Narrator: The program helped the girls to understand classroom expectations and to develop English language and literacy skills.

Jacquie: At the beginning of the project, I went carefully through the expectations of behaviour in the classroom. Brigid?

Brigid: Show respect.

Jacquie: Maria.

Maria: Treats me the way I would like to be treated.

Jacquie: Absolutely. You treat them nicely, they treat you nicely. Well done. Good, Keverleen.

Keverleen: Not teasing each other Like, somebody doesn't know how to read, you can't tease them.

Jacquie: To cater for the particular girls that I taught, there needed to be quite a lot of scaffolding involved in my initial plan of what we would need to do to get the task done. But even I was pulled up at several points realising I had made assumptions on things that the students could do and then realising actually they couldn't do that so I had to be very flexible and do a lot of contingent scaffolding along the way. I'm going to pair you up with someone else and I'd like you to take turns and share what each of you wrote down.

Nazim: Oh, I don't think gonorrhoea's not infectious, darl. It's bacteria.

Karin: It's very important for teachers to understand that learning a second language takes a considerable effort and time. It really takes about seven years to acquire a good use of language. Sometimes it's in the background. And they need time to just sit quietly and just absorb what is happening without the pressure of having to perform.


Jacquie: Wow, Pens are scrawling. You've got some ideas?

Narrator: The school leadership realised that teachers needed some professional learning related to supporting refugee students.

Peter: We came across 'Teaching Refugees in my Classroom'.

Teacher: When we did 'Teaching Refugees in my Classroom', the biggest comment that we got back was that probably because we're a secondary school is that we don't do oracy very well. If they're going to use the language of Mathematics, they have to speak it in Mathematics.

Peter: Content is extremely important but it's pointless getting through content if the students aren't understanding it.

Jacquie: Ok, ladies. In your interviews you told me that you love girl magazines, so I want you to choose the one that grabs your eye first.

Student: Ms Browne interviewed us, what we like and what's our favourite thing that we like to do. When we find out that we were doing the magazine project, we were surprised and was like really good and was really interesting.

Jacquie: We moved to immerse the girls in the magazine genre. What do you notice about the types of stuff that's in this magazine.

Student: Gossip.

Jacquie: Gossip. I projected for them what we were going to do so that they had a picture in their mind that we in fact would have our own magazine which ended up looking like this.

[Lively Music]

Ok, Celeste. I'll put your name next to it. The girls and I brainstormed what we wanted for our magazine. They selected their topics. They researched and wrote their articles with quite a lot of scaffolding. What I'd like to do now is start brainstorming some ideas of articles we could have in the magazine.

Karin: It improved their literacy and writing skills.

Student: How to survive high school.

Jacquie: How to survive high school.

Karin: They learnt about graphics and layout and language development.

Jacquie: How do you see that working, Aratha? Do you want that to be like an article or some tips? It also improved their self-esteem.

Aratha: 10 tips.

Jacquie: 10 tips. Sounds so good. Hanna, what issue is important for you, or you would like to learn more about?

Hanna: Friendship.

Jacquie: Friendship. Through planning activities where the students have ownership and a sense of connectedness to one another and myself, builds trust, builds safety.

Student: I want smoking.

Jacquie: Smoking, ok. Is you're idea like, don't smoke.

Student: Don't smoke.

Jacquie: Don't smoke, ok. A health one. Ultimately the girls have the responsibility for planning and launching the magazine to a real audience which consisted of special guests, teachers, parents and some students. They were very proud of themselves and they had the right to be.

[Lively Music]

Narrator: Blacktown Girl's High School has in recent years made some significant changes to the way they support refugee students. As a result, the school has seen improvements in the way students from a refugee background are engaging in school and learning.

[Lively Music and background chatter]

[End of Transcript]

Supporting and teaching refugee students at Mt Druitt Public School


Mick Kelly, Principal, Mt Druitt Public School

Sean Grady, Coordinator, Learning and Support Team, Mt Druitt Public School

Adrienne Fenely-McFadden, School Counsellor, Mt Druitt Public School

Barbara Colreavy, ESL Teacher, Mt Druitt Public School

John Kon, School Learning Support Officer Ethnic

Tracey Caves, Classroom Teacher, Mt Druitt Public School

[Middle Eastern Music]

Narrator: Most refugee students have a background of traumatic and stressful experiences. Many have experienced war. They have lived for long periods in refugee camps. Some have lost friends and family members.

[Middle Eastern music]

Enrolling in a primary school in Australia is for many refugee students their first experience of schooling. These students need intensive support so that they develop the skills and understandings to engage successfully in schooling in Australia.


Mick: Mount Druitt Public celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. It has a very diverse community.

Narrator: Mt Druitt Public school is located in Western Sydney.

Mick: We have 590 kids here at the moment. We have 81% of our families are from a non English speaking background.

Barbara: Now we are going to be calling our role and remember how we have different ways of saying 'good morning'. Bonjour, Wilson.

Narrator: Mt Druitt Public School has been enrolling students from migrant and refugee backgrounds for many years. However, 5 years ago they noticed that the refugee children they were enrolling had more complex needs than those they had previously encountered.

Sean: Often there was no English language skills at all. We have trouble filling in the enrolment forms.

Narrator: Many of these children had grown up in refugee camps. They and their families had experienced significant deprivation and trauma.

Sean: As we got more and more of these kids in, we started to learn more and more about the difficulties they'd been through and the very hard, I suppose, lives that they'd lived in the refugee camps.

Barbara: As you know we are going to start of with our counting and our alphabet song. [Children singing] 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

Narrator: Many teachers were challenged by some of the behaviours they were seeing in class and in the playground.

Barbara: With refugee students, they may, for instance, have had interrupted schooling. They could have seen a lot of violence.

Adrienne: They might be unfocused. They might be, you know, really jumpy. It can go from one end of the spectrum to the other in terms of activity level, in terms of emotional level.

[Students singing] 42, 43, 44, 45...

Adrienne: And sometimes teachers may refer thinking this child has a attention deficit disorder. And I guess this is their adjustment. They're needing time for their brain to accommodate all of this information.

Barbara: When they first come in, we like to have a settling activity which is the alphabet song and the counting song because some of the students respond really well to music.

[Students singing] 100.

Narrator: The school leadership team discussed what they could do to better support newly arrived refugee students and their families.

[Lively Music]

They talked with staff and surveyed teachers about their Professional Learning needs.

Mick: The Professional Learning that we have actually undergone has been targeted for the challenges that we have in front of us. We have a number of refugee kids, we have a huge number of ESL kids so our staff had to be trained up.

Sean: I think at first there was a little bit of resistance because there was, "why do I need this professional development, I'm ok in the classroom, I can deal with this." But when you started to look at the backgrounds that they came from, I think people began to understand that there was a lot more issues that these kids and these families brought with them.

Narrator: The whole school did Professional Learning about supporting refugees in the classroom.

Sean: The one resource that worked really well for all of our mainstream classroom teachers and the support teachers as well was "Teaching refugees in my classroom". This was a great resource in terms of an overview of the type of backgrounds that refugees come from. But also in terms of the strategies that can be used to not just support students but also to engage them with the curriculum.

[Dramatic Music]

Barbara: It opened the door for really good discussion between ESL staff and the class teachers about their students.

Narrator: The learning support team also did professional learning that helped them understand how traumatic refugee experiences can impact on students behaviour and learning.

Sean: The "Promoting Positive Behaviour and Learning" was a great resource. It allowed the learning support team to begin to support, not just the curriculum side, but focus more on the behavioural side as well. And that really went towards changing the pedagogy of how we do things at the school.

Mick: It was ridiculous to actually keep hammering the line of "all kids are the same and they're going to learn this way", cause it just wasn't happening. It wasn't easy. And it wasn't [finger snap] done in 6 weeks or a term, it was done over a couple of years.

[Dramatic music]

Narrator: The STARS model, developed by UNICEF, was introduced.

Barbara: The STARS model looks at how we can give them feelings of Security, of Trust, because if children have got emotions that they're not able to deal with, and if they've been in situations where they really don't know who they can trust and who they can't, it's very important that those issues are addressed. Wilson, Anelka, Movey and Haseeb - stand up quietly those people...

Narrator: The STARS model provides a framework that supports resettlement, and recovery.

Barbara: Stand up Zusu, stand up Asab, stand up Tunda, stand up Anna.

Narrator: STARS stands for Safety, Trust Attachment, Responsibility and Skills.

Barbara: With my group, what I would like you to do is to first of all, have a chance to talk to the person next to you, to share what nice thing happened to you yesterday.

Narrator: Refugee students need to be in environments that make them safe in order to develop trust and attachment.

Student: My sister came from school she told me that we had to do our homework

Student: Yesterday was dancing, and then I went home

Barbara: Excellent listening from my class today, well done.

Narrator: The STARS model helped Mount Druitt reflect on the way they were doing things, and think about how to improve school processes and routines, such as enrolment and orientation.

Staff member:Hi can I help you?

Parent: Ah yes please, I want to, um, enrol my child to the school please.

Barbara: When we get new enrolments I like to go down and meet the parents, gather some information, just so that I have an understanding of the circumstances that they've been through, prior educational experiences of their child. Hello I'm Barbara Colreavy, the English as a Second Language teacher So you're enrolling at our school...

Adrienne: I think it's really important for a counsellor to be aware of new enrolments, particularly students who are refugees.

Barbara: Can I see your paperwork please?


Adrienne: We're used to I guess going through what the background might be in terms of the children's health, what experiences they might of had in terms of trauma, what educational experiences they may of had if they've moved from one country to another, then working from there to get a plan as to how best to support the student within the school.

Barbara: It's important for us to build a relationship with the families so that it's actually a partnership between the home and the school. Did Zusu go to school before coming to Australia?


We are also able to put the family in touch with agencies that may be able to help them in housing and medical and things like that which really impact so much on families.


Translator: In Jordan, they lived in Jordan for 5 years.

Narrator: The school recognised the need to help students and families understand school expectations in relation to behaviour and learning.

Barbara: Some students require more assistance in being able to meet school expectations, so to do this, we decide with the student what they need to be able to do to be successful in achieving at least one goal. It might be that you want them to be able to come and sit down, with the other students, and sit sensibly. And then the child knows that when they can achieve that goal for a specific amount of time, that they will have a reward that we have discussed prior.

[uplifting music]

We need to have your legs crossed, let's put your shirt down so that we can see your nice face.

Narrator: The school employs a bilingual learning support officer, who assists students in the classroom.

John: My role here is to connect the teachers and the students who are new in this country, and also to create a bridge between the teachers and the parents.

Narrator: The school tries to ensure that an interpreter is always available for parent interviews. They also use the telephone interpreter service to communicate with parents and students when necessary.

Barbara: Oh hello yes I'd like an interpreter please, an Arabic interpreter.... Last time when we were working together, we learnt about one of the animals in Featherdale

Narrator: An Intensive English Class was created for newly arrived refugee children.

Mick: The purpose of the Intensive English Class was to provide a safe environment for those children when they first arrived, in those very important early stages of their schooling here at Mt Druitt Public.

Narrator: In this class, students receive an orientation to school, and intensive English language support.

Sean: Coming into a classroom where a teacher's been very highly trained in dealing specifically with refugee kids and the complex backgrounds and the issues they bring with them, has worked really well.

Barbara: Shingleback lizards belong to the lizard family. They are reptiles. Put your hand up if you can tell me what a reptile is?

Narrator: The class operates for two hours each morning.

Barbara: What do you think?

Narrator: One of their most experienced ESL teachers, Barbara Colreavy, is timetabled on to this class.

Barbara: In the Intensive English classroom setting, it's working on a program that's specifically for their needs, but is also equipping them to go back into their mainstream class and function there.

You're going to be in groups, and you're going to have to talk together because there are different categories.

Student: Miss what is that?

Barbara: This one is going to be for an artist You're writing habitat... Maryanne what are you writing?

[classroom chatter]

Student: No no no, don't take the yellow one.

John: So, what do you think will go next Movey?

Barbara: At our school we're fortunate to have a School Learning Support Officer who speaks five languages.

John: Some of the students who come here don't have much English. Habitat, yeah, it's where they live. So what I normally do is to do one-on-one learning with the student and also I help the teachers to understand the cultural perspective of the parents and the students.

Barbara: John works not just with helping me with my students, but he goes into the classes where our refugee students are and he'll work in with the class teacher to assist those students.

John: Do they have wings? No They don't have wings, so they can't fly.

Barbara: Once they begin to trust and to understand what is expected of them, then they start to learn, and John's instrumental in gaining their trust.

John: There's a difference between cold blooded and warm blooded. We need to write what part they belong to.

Student: Miss I finished.

Narrator: In her classroom, Barbara establishes predictable routines and a learning environment.

Barbara: Now, what you are going to do is, you are going to come to the tables in your group. At times they can come in, and they might have had a disappointment or something difficult that they've dealt with at home... Best group that I can see ready for listening ...and if they have that routine, it really gives them that security to sort of leave that behind, and then focus on what they are doing now. So when we finish our work, red tick on the chart for each of you, but not til we finish our work. One of the people in the group is going to be the artist. What do you think you might be going to draw?

Students: Shingleback?

Barbara: The Shingleback lizard

Narrator: Barbara recently took her students to Featherdale Wildlife Park to learn about Australian animals.

[cheerful guitar music]

Narrator: Excursions like this provide a shared experience, which can then be used as a focus for student learning in the classroom.

Wildlife staff: So Shrek is my Shingleback lizard. The first thing that Shrek will do, if he's attacked by an animal, is this. Most of them are new to Australia, and they have not seen this animal before. It scares their predators. I want you to pretend that you're a Shingleback lizard. A giant eagle has come flying across and spotted you - what do you do?

Barbara: Also there is a focus at the school on the students being able to write information reports.

Narrator: Barbara's teaching program and classroom pedagogy aims at developing students listening, speaking, reading and writing skills in English, so that they can access the curriculum.

Barbara: OK everyone, what do you think, out of all the information you have collected, would be the first part of your information report? In a topic of course there is a lot of technical language that the students would not have been aware of before, so that has to be introduced to them. Here are some of the words of the headings that we have been thinking about. Often a good way to do this is through a narrative text, or an informational text where that language is used. Which one of those should be on our information report first? What do you think Sama?

Student: Classification?

Barbara: The children then need to have many opportunities to use that language, so that there will be activities where they'll need to discuss it with a partner, or in a paired group. They might have an activity where they're using that language in itself to complete a task, and that will often involve them negotiating with another person, and discussing the language. It's done in a situation where they're relaxed, it's fun, and they're actually practicing without realising it. Now this activity is going to be for the tigers.

Students: Yes!

Barbara: Now tigers when you get your puppet, what I'd like you to do is to pretend to be that animal but you are talking about the shingleback lizard.

Students: That he can run fast... Good morning mister...

Narrator: Barbara also focuses on building students confidence to speak English and participate in class.

Student: You know something about that Shingleback lizard?

Barbara: Some of the students in class will be very quiet, which is why I provide small group activities.

Students: Sometimes someone trying to eat him and he can shake his tail. We are learning about Shingleback lizards.

Barbara: So today's main objective was to recap on some of the information about one particular animal...

Student: They are found in New South Wales, only here

Barbara: And what I did was to show them the video, to just bring them back to that experience.

[Classroom laughter]

And so then I provided them with some written material in one of the activities, and they had to look at that activity, and pull out elements of information, that will go into a format which they need to know for when they're writing a report.

Student: They turn around, and it's tail looks like it's head. And like, if the predator is scared, then he runs away.

[Uplifting piano music]

Teacher: OK just make sure Mahani that you've got your full stops where they should be.

Barbara: I wanted them to interact with other children because a lot of the improvement with their language is going to be when they are working with other children, they've got to negotiate, take turns, and share. The baby, which was in its mother's pouch, was waiting for its mother to finish....

Teacher: So you need a capital letter at the start of your sentence.

Barbara: In the group of students I have, they're of varying abilities academically, and also in their language acquisition. And I wanted to make sure I was differentiating to suit those needs.

Narrator: To differentiate her teaching so that all students can participate, Barbara designs lots of scaffolding onto her teaching sequence activities and resources.

Barbara: Another important aspect of ESL Pedagogy is controlling the information the students have so that you will plan an activity where you are very much guiding how they're learning. Which one would you like to tell me about that you selected? Then the next step is: they're given a task where they're able to work a little bit more independently to the final outcome which is an independent task where they can do that without having the teacher assist them in any way.

Narrator: Activities are sequenced to provide Controlled, Guided then Independent Support. In Controlled Support, Barbara initially builds the students understanding of the topic while modelling and drawing their attention to the language she wants them to learn.

[Uplifting Music]

Barbara: She can't see them because they are brown like the log.

Narrator: She then provides Guided Support through highly scaffolded group tasks. This leads them to being able to work independently.

Barbara: So to get to those different levels, it's important to design in some aspects of that task that do require the teacher to have a large input to guide them as they're gaining the information and to ultimately have them become independent to the task.

Student: A shingle backed lizard has one mate for life.

Narrator: Barbara often builds this focus on English language into rich authentic learning projects for her class.

Barbara: We are working with a literacy focus but we're also trying to develop the literacy focus into the curriculum areas and to do this I like to develop a rich task and one example I will give is one that I did last year where I was doing a unit of work related to British Colonisation in Australia. And we realised that the students didn't have a great understanding of Australian history, so therefore we needed to introduce that to them.

[Uplifting Music]

Sean: They did a reading of a book about a bush ranger and the kids had very little understanding of what a bushranger was. So Barbara came up with the idea of let's make a movie about a bushranger called, I think it was "Moonshine Joe".

Barbara: It was a good opportunity for us to visit a classroom set back in those days and from that point then, they developed an narrative and we decided we'd go back to the school and put our narrative into an actual drama. And that was filmed.

Sean: They developed the script. They developed the idea of roles from role-playing and filmed their movie about Moonshine Joe. They edited it. They then went onto develop movie posters, tickets for the movies, who they were going to invite. So all those tasks come together under one big heading. There were children that had minimal English that were able to be a part of it. It culminated in parents being invited up, the principals invited to sit down and watch the premiere of the movie "Moonshine Joe".

Student: One day Sally Turnbull would have a day she'll never forget. Her teacher was Mr Mills. No one liked him - not one little bit. Samantha, come here. Ring the bell.

Narrator: Presenting their work to a real audience helps the children feel a sense of achievement and acceptance in their school community.

Barbara: It gave them a real world and real life experience and it gave them a feeling of confidence because lots of other children in the school asked if they could come and see the movie that they had made.

Students: A young miner crept quietly through the cobbled streets of a Welsh village. A policeman patrolling the streets stopped him to find out what was in his sack. Stop, What's in your sack?

Narrator: It also helps their families to understand more about school and the role they can have in supporting their children.

[Gentle music]

In addition to her teaching the Intensive English program, Barbara team teaches and helps classroom teachers to differentiate their programs.

[Students in unison] Good Morning Mrs Colreavy.

Tracey: Barbara is here as a support teacher with the language. I have some new arrivals and they get a little bit of extra support to help build up their English language.

Students: 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20...

Tracey: Give yourselves a pat on the back for keeping up with the counting, well done. We work together and it's just building up the language with these children. Today we're looking at halves and quarters. That's Melissa's half and that's the half I'm going to have. What have I done wrong when I'm sharing my pizza out, Ali?

Ali: You gave too much to you and gave a littler piece to Melissa. Ah, well done.

Barbara: I'm trying to get the concept of a half and a quarter to them. We're going to pretend we've got a pizza, I think I'll have the ham and pineapple one. And what one are you going to have?

Student: BBQ one.

Barbara: You're having BBQ. We can only have one pizza and you need to get your BBQ and I need to get my ham and pineapple, what are we going to do about it?

Student: Oo oh Cut it into equal parts.

Barbara: And look, here is a half on this little circle. So what I'm going to get you to do is to do your half of pizza, because you're only allowed to have half... That's Nelson's pizza but I can't see my pizza anywhere. What am we going to do to show my pizza?

Mick: We've basically shifted from a very teacher focussed to a very student-centred approach towards teaching.

Narrator: Mt Druitt Public School has made some significant changes to the way it supports refugee students and their families. The strategies and programs they have introduced are helping students settle into school and develop the skills they need for success.

Mick: So it's been a long journey and that's a journey that we are still travelling.

[Singing fast-paced song]

Students: Now I know my ABC next time won't you sing with me We start with ABC and we go all the way to Z

[Students singing]

Students: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P.

[End of Transcript]

The Refugee student readiness survey (PDF 196KB) can help schools reflect on current practices and determine focus areas for refugee student support.

Watch how bilingual support can be used to communicate with students and families.

Bilingual support for refugee students.


Kerry Cheeseman, ESL teacher, Auburn North Public School

Fauzia Shams, SLSO, Auburn North Public School

Kerry: Today we’re going to look at tigers, and what they look like. I’m very lucky to work with 2 fantastic School Learning Support Officers, and they speak Arabic and Dari.

Fauzia: Some of them they’ve never been to school, so it’s very hard for them to understand.

Kerry: We team teach, they might take guided reading groups for me, and assist with writing activities.

Fauzia: If they are Afghani background I speak their language, I explain what the teacher is actually saying. When they get the lesson and when they realise what the teacher is talking about, they get more interested and they want to participate.

[Classroom noise]

Kerry: The most important thing is it helps the children feel safe. When they come into this classroom, they have someone they can go to and speak their first language.

Fauzia: The new arrival kids especially, some of them they’ve never been to school, so they don’t know the rules of the school, they don’t know how to behave. Oh, do you know what she was saying?

[Arabic translation]

The important thing is, as soon as they arrive, we tell them,the families and the kids, what they should do in school.

Student: The Siberian tiger?

Fauzia: Siberian, right.

Kerry: We involve the School Language Support Officer to translate to parents, including 3 way conferences.

Fauzia: When the teacher actually talks to the parents and tell them how the kids are progressing, so I go and translate. I discovered that 2 weeks ago the kids were going for an excursion. I had to call 160 different parents. They don’t get it when they get the note, they don’t know what it is about. When you explain to them on the phone or see them face-to-face, then they know it’s important, they all came and paid, and we all went to the excursion.

[Guitar music]

So tell me what did you discover today?

[Arabic translation]

Student: All tigers have different stripes?

Fauzia: Stripes. And, what's the ...

[Guitar music fades]

[End of transcript]

Learn more about how schools may develop community partnerships by watching the video below.

School partnerships with community organisations.


Kim Cootes, Assistant Principal ESL, Fairfield Primary School

Louise Kleinbergs, Refugee Transition Coordinator, Holroyd High School

Max Schneider, School Liaison Officer Counsellor, STARTTS

Karin Harrison, ESL Teacher, Blacktown Girls High School

Nerida Cracknell, Learning and Support Teacher, Blacktown Girls High School

Peter Flowers, Principal, Blacktown Girls High School

Laura Roby, ESL Teacher, Bossley Park High School


Kim: There's a wealth of community agencies out there to support refugee students

Louise: We've had job quest come and work with our students on the RAW program

Drum teacher: Next three you've got the...

[Slow drumming]

Louise: STARTTS to come and work with the students delivering drum beat we have links with our migrant resource centre, so there's just a few of the agencies that we've be able to really tap into.

Teacher: A healthy mouth, it's important. It allows you to speak and smile properly.

Kim: Some of the agencies that we've worked with includes the NSW refugee health service, that now have refugee health nurses, that do learning for parent communities.

Parent: Is the tap water safe to drink?

Teacher: Tap water is safe to drink, and you don't need to boil your tap water before drinking.

Kim: So they're an invaluable partner

Drum teacher: Today we'll choose what song we want to perform at the end of the year.

Drum support teacher: When we come back, we will give you maybe one week or two weeks in advance before the performance.

Kim: We also have a strong connection with STARTTS who provide counselling support for refugee students and their families. But they also run group programs, for example, capoeira angola, drumbeat, and a number of camps.

[Percussion instruments, singing, clapping]

Max: We run therapeutic groups for young people because we find that those can help not only to deal with the psychological concerns that they present with, but also to facilitate that connection between students.

[Capoeira music and singing]

Often the refugee student will feel like, it's only him or her that feels the way that they do, but being in a group context they quickly realise that others are going through the same thing.

Dummer: you shake hands, make a chiva and roll, and then you slide.

[Percussion music]

Mr Chen: Good morning year 9, my name's Mr Chen and I'll be your teacher for Ready Arrive Work.

Karin: We have the RAW program, which is the Ready Arrive Work program which we run with the careers adviser and the ESL teacher.

Nerida: It's a readiness for work program so they really make sure that they understand what they need to have in their resumes and what's expected when they go to the workforce.

Mr Chen: If you're looking at the floor like this, how are you going to look, how're you going to look Yvette?

Yvette: Very rude and lazy.

Peter: SIFRA is another one, social inclusion for refugee youth

Karin: which is a joint program with TAFE and Centrelink and STARTTS.

Nerida. Quite often these girls are the link between home and Centrelink, so they were able to find out what they need to do to get the best support for their families.

Peter: We take the students to TAFE. We find that many of them have a really limited knowledge of what to do after school.

[Pop music]

Nerida: It's been a real eye opener for the girls to go to some of the TAFE and realise they can do nursing now, or digital media, there's a myriad of courses that they can have a go at.

[Pop music]

Karin: And then we have the Refugee Action Support Programs.

Nerida: Students from Western Sydney University who are studying to be teachers come and help with the homework centre.

Karin: Macquarie mentoring is also offered here at the school. The Macquarie University students volunteer to work with our senior students.

Nerida: A lot of mentors have a refugee-like background themselves or ESL background so they come and say to the girls: "yes uni is scary, but you can do it, look at me".

Teacher: That's a really good point. Maybe if you put it in shorter sentences.

Laura: We work in conjunction with the University of Western Sydney, and get some practicum teachers in, and they do a special literacy/numeracy program with the students to try and support their development.

Student: I...also...learned...not to judge people... by their look...but what's inside them.

Narrator: There are many organisations in the community (hand clap) that can assist schools by providing additional expertise, resources, programs and support for refugee students and their families.

Nerida: We need to really get a partnership going with the communities. If we're going to be successful, we need to have those relationships.

[Music fades out]


[Drumming ends]

[End of transcript]

The video below shows how EAL/D teachers can support literacy and language development.

English language support for refugee students.


Nazmin Dean, Science teacher

Kerry Cheeseman, ESL teacher, Auburn North Public School

Kim Cootes, Assistant Principal ESL, Fairfield Primary School

Nerida Cracknell, Learning and Support Team, Blacktown Girls High School

Warwick Mahoney, Assistant Principal ESL, Auburn North Public School

Mick Kelly, Principal, Mt Druitt Public School

Karin Harrison, ESL Teacher, Blacktown Girls High School

Dana Castro, ESL Teacher, Marsden Road Public School

Nazim: OK, now I left you with work to do on diseases last lesson.

Kerry: Look at my picture what can you see, the monster has…? Yes?

Student: The monster has, ah, two stripey leg?

Kim: Many of our refugee students have had disrupted learning. They may not have been to school other than 5 terms in an IEC, and they’re in a Year 10 science class. Teachers need support in knowing how they can differentiate the curriculum to support refugee students.

Nazim: I want you to take my information, and turn it into the powerpoint for viruses.

Nerida: It’s extremely important that all the teachers have an understanding of the needs of the language acquisition for our refugee students and our ESL students, because the language forms the basis of all the learning that goes on.

Kerry: Well done. I want you to look at your picture now.

Student: The monster has a…beard

Kerry: At Auburn North Public School I take the new arrivals children from years 3 to 6, there’s about twenty children, for intensive English support.

Student: The monster has a….like a lion…?

Kerry: It’s called lion mane. Most of these children have been here just on six months, and they arrived with little or no English.

Student: When I came I don’t know English, just little bit. And then she gave me homework, and when I start to do it, I learn how I write and read little bit.

Kerry: The next part of this sentence is, you’re going to tell me whether your monster is a girl monster or a boy monster. I often ask them why.

Students: It’s a boy. Boy. Girl

Kerry: but I give them cues. For example whether it’s a girl or a boy, I gave them choices. I just give them the language they need, and the cues that they need to achieve the task. Ok can you write that part of the sentence on your sheet of paper? The girl monster or the boy monster.

Karin: Learning a second language takes a considerable effort and time. It really takes about 7 years to acquire a good use of language, sometimes even longer especially if students have not got good literacy in their first language. And they need time to just sit quietly sometimes in class and just absorb what is happening, without the pressure of having to perform. Ok we need to pick out the most important information. They need to develop their oracy first. As little children, we learn to speak first. That then leads on to the written and the reading skills.

Kerry: What is the same about Barr and I? Girl, girl - the same.

Warwick: The sort of things we try and put across would be things like importance of oral language, importance of authenticity, routines, have more smaller steps in your program, message abundancy, the importance of hands-on activities for kids.

Kerry: What else is the same?

Student: Mouth?

Kerry: Mouth, that’s the same.

Warwick: High challenge, high support.

Warwick: Just because kids are learning a second language or maybe even learning their first literacy, doesn’t mean they can't be challenged with the appropriate support.

Kerry: What we’re going to look at is the pictures of the tigers, and work out how are the tigers the same. Two eyes? Two eyes…that….?

Student: That could see a person.

Kerry: As refugee students are learning a new language, they need the opportunity to hear the language and get models of that language, and we call that controlled support. And often that’s where the teacher models the sentence.

Talk to the person next to you, look at the pictures and see how they’re the same.

Then the next step is guided support where they practice that language in small group situations, and that’s where they get their feedback. We might go controlled, guided, controlled, guided, and then eventually independent, where they can use that language independently.

Can you tell me your sentence about the stripes?

Student: Tigers…have…stripes but they have different patterns.

Kerry: So I always start with the oral, and then reading and writing.

Warwick: What we as ESL teachers would see as the ESL teaching sequence, controlled, guided, and then having a hand over to more independent tasks.

Dana: Miss Millard and I want to know, why do you write explanations? Our school takes the team teaching model, which is for me to go into the classrooms, to collaborate with the classroom teachers. How does a frog grow?

Mick: The benefit of having support teachers in the classroom, a) you’ve got another trained professional there that’s going to help with the targeted kids, and it actually allows for better learning.

Dana: So we’ve talked about how things happen. What’s the other question we can ask for explanations, Shahil?

Shahil: Why.

Dana: What’s involved in team teaching is the classroom teacher and the ESL teacher collaboratively planning a unit of work. We can plan our assessments, and also, how we can differentiate their learning. We're going to put you in pairs...

Teacher: Having Dana in the classroom with me is beneficial. She’s an ESL specialist, it helps with differentiation, so we’re working on different sets of skills with students.

Dana: Have a talk to your learning partner. Which one do you think will go first in our lifecycle?

Teacher: We’ve been learning about facts about tigers, and we like to get the students to become the teachers. I’m going to read first and you just listen. The female, or girl, tiger is pregnant for 103 days. First we like to do the controlled, so I read the information first, just so they could hear the vocab first and have any questions that they wanted to ask about any of the words. Then I put the pieces of paper out for a bit more of a guided way of doing it. So they are still in their partners and its a bit more student centred but I still can help them out. So can you tell Abdir?

Student: When they’re one year old, they find food by themselves

Teacher: The last bit is the independent, where they can come up and swap over partners and be the teacher and say what information they have learnt. You’re going to think of one that you can remember, and tell your partner.

[Classroom chatter]

Kim: Mainstream classroom teachers need to understand that refugee students have suffered trauma, they have had disrupted schooling, so they need to create a safe and welcoming environment. But they also need to have a pedagogy in their classroom, that is inclusive of refugee students, and takes into account their learning needs.

Nazim: Can they get rid of it or does it have to run its course?

Student: It has to go by itself.

Kim: They have to think about how they’re going to differentiate the curriculum so that refugee students will be successful at school.

Nerida: If they’re going to use the language of mathematics, they have to speak it in mathematics classrooms, they have to talk in mathematic terms, not just sit and do.

Kim: And unless those students develop that academic language, they’re not going to be successful at school.

Kerry: Two stripey legs that.

Student: that, that can run fast.

Kerry: Well done!

[End of transcript]

Learn more about effective enrolment and orientation processes.

Enrolment and orientation of refugee students.


Kim Cootes, Assistant Principal ESL, Fairfield Primary School

Louise Kleinbergs, Refugee Transition Coordinator, Holroyd High School

Karin Harrison, ESL Teacher, Blacktown Girls High School

Laura Roby, ESL Teacher, Bossley Park High School

Sherin Nair, Learning and Engagement Officer

Barbara Colreavy, ESL Teacher, Mt Druitt Public School

Warwick Mahoney, Assistant Principal ESL, Auburn North Public School

Sue Mayhew, ESL Teacher, Marsden Road Public School

Kerry Cheeseman, ESL Teacher, Auburn North Public School


Narrator: New South Wales public schools enrol up to 1500 newly arrived refugee students each year.

Student: Morning, I’m here for enrolling.

Staff member: Lovely, have a seat

Sherin: The enrolment process is an opportune time to get as much information about students and their families and backgrounds. But of course, it must be done in a sensitive way.

Teacher: Good Morning.

Parent: Hi good morning.

Teacher: Welcome to Fairfield High School

Kim: Ensuring that there’s an interpreter, but also perhaps having an ESL teacher that’s responsible for the refugee students, to be at that enrolment meeting.

Teacher: Ok so welcome once again.

Parent: Thank you.

Kim: So that that teacher can have an understanding of the background of that student.

Teacher: I know that you’ve missed some schooling, you’ve come directly from Iraq.

[Arabic translation]

Barbara: Initially they have an interpreter with them, because most people don’t come to the school without someone who can speak English. It has happened occasionally and then we will just use the Telephone Interpreter Service.

Warwick: Wherever possible we try to have an interview apart from just filling out the enrolment forms.

Teacher: OK so what we’re proposing is that even though Martin has had time in the Intensive English Centre, we don’t go straight into year 11, that he enters a transition class.

Warwick: We certainly try to have either a community language teacher or the DP or an ESL teacher there as they’re filling out a form, but we do try and encourage them to come back, where we can actually talk through how the school runs, school routines, expectations, and answer any questions that they might have.

Staff member: Hi can I help you?

Parent: Yes please, I want to enrol my child to the school please.

Barbara: One of the ESL staff assists them in filling in the forms.

Hello I’m Barbara Colreavy, the English as a Second Language teacher.

And then take them on a tour of the school, and then answer any queries that they may have about the education system in Australia.

Sue: As a parent comes into our school there are welcoming signs in different languages. As they enrol they fill in the form and if they need help there's our Ethnic SLSO person.


Interpreter: Um, she wants to enrol her child.

Teacher: Can you just explain to her, this is the Arabic form?

Barbara: It’s very important that the office staff know to assist them with filling in the forms, and then answer any queries that they may have.

Staff member: My role is front office reception, meet and greet new parents, new students.

Teacher: Hello Emanuel

Staff member: When they’re initially making the appointment, I will often talk to the child. You get a rapport with the kids.

Teacher: Today I have a year 12 student, and she’ll be taking you around the school, giving you an orientation.

Narrator: The most important part of orientation is showing refugee students that school is a safe place.

Teacher: Say good afternoon to Mrs Cheeseman.

Students: Good afternoon Mrs Cheeseman.

Kerry: When children arrive at our school they all are different. We have children who can read or write in their first language, and and we have the child who arrives in Year 5, who’s never been to school before.

Teacher: Yasmin?

Yasmin: A dis-traction?

Teacher: Can everyone say ‘discussion’?

Students: Discussion.

Warwick: I mean I can think of some particular children - they’re Afghani, they’ve come through Pakistan, they don’t speak Dari. Urdu is their first language. They’re not literate in any language and haven’t really been to school before.

Staff member: Hi Laura, this is Milad.

Laura: Hi Milad, how are you going? I’m Mrs Roby. So today’s your first day at school?

Student: Yes.

Laura: Once getting them into school, it’s pretty much trying to develop a stable relationship and letting them know that school is a safe place for them, and building up a welfare relationship with the student.

What was St Johns like? Was it this big?

Karin: We assess their oracy and their writing ability.

Laura: So the library is just through here.

Karin: And finding out information about their background. That’s really important because it helps teachers to understand if there are issues with trauma, it helps us to see how much welfare support that the students require as well.

Laura: When they arrive into our school, an ESL teacher tries to familiarise them with the school.

And that’s where you can go and do your assignments, there’s computers.

Let them know where they can turn to in times of needs like meeting the counsellor, obviously knowing the learning support team because we're their greatest advocates. But also knowing the structures that are in place at school.

This is the Deputies office, and that’s Miss Langodinos.

Louise: We have a program called the Welcome Program, and that is to help them settle in and understand what the procedures are and where to go to for help. What we’re going to do this morning, we’re going to do a little activity.

Narrator: The Welcome Program helps new refugee students to form relationships with staff and other students.

Louise: If you start to feel sick at school,what would you do?

Student: I have to ask the teacher and the teacher would write note.

Louise: And you go to the sick bay.

Narrator: It addresses students welfare and educational needs, while helping them understand school expectations.

Laura: We work with them to try and develop organisational skills, cause a lot of those things, they’ve not needed to have before.

You can go up this pathway, or that pathway over there.

Narrator: To prevent new refugee students being isolated, peer support from other students is emphasised.

Karin: We set up a buddy system when students arrive, those students show them where everything is.

Student: There’s like over 60 different nationalities, so, you’ll find friends.

Karin: Try and introduce them to key people at the school, all this goes towards developing trust.

Student: Do you like playing soccer?

Student 2: Yeah, mostly that’s what I really like.

[music fades]

[End of transcript]

The video below shows how schools can use the STARS model to help students feel safe.

Making students feel safe – The STARS model


Jacquie Browne, ESL Teacher, Refugee Transition Program

Barbara Colreavy, ESL Teacher, Mt Druitt Public School

Max Schneider, School Liaison Officer Counsellor, STARTTS

Adrienne Fenely-McFadden, School Counsellor, Mt Druitt Public School

Sean Grady, Coordinator, Learning and Support Team, Mt Druitt Public School

Kerry Cheeseman, ESL teacher, Auburn North Public School

Dana Castro, ESL Teacher, Marsden Road Public School

Nazim: Girls, hurry up, unpack, let's go.


Class: Shingleback lizards belong to the lizard family

Jacquie: Instead of me saying to you ‘here are the rules’, I want you to help me create that

Barbara: It’s important for schools to realise that, with refugee students, they could have seen a lot of violence, they haven’t had continuity of a secure way of life so when they come to Australia they’ve got a lot to deal with.

Max: We talk at STARTTS about the refugee experience as being quite complex. Young people have been through multiple transition points, they’ve been exposed to trauma, they’ve had very limited education. I think all these things place them at a distinct disadvantage to their peers, so if we understand that then we can create ways to help them.

Barbara: Put your hand up if you can tell me what a reptile is.

Student: A reptile is an animal that’s cold blooded

Adrienne: Children often take a long time to settle in. There’s a lot of stresses that the children have been through. They’ve come to a new country, they’ve had to adjust to a totally new culture, a new school. So presentation that the teacher might see – it might be a child who can’t concentrate, they might be really jumpy, you might have a student who is becoming extremely distressed or extremely angry. And I guess this is their adjustment issues. They’re needing time for their brain to accommodate all of this information.

Max: It’s easy to misinterpret behaviour and responses from young people if we don’t know the reasons why that might be the case. So I think understanding is the first step.

Adrienne: And one of the biggest things I guess is creating a really good relationship with the teacher and feeling safe. So I think when they’ve first of all got that feeling of safety and security, then perhaps the learning can start.

Jacquie: I’m going to pair you up with someone else, and I’d like you to take turns and share what each of you wrote down.

Sean: One of the first students that I got had great difficulty even just moving from a seat to the floor. Often he’d roll around and when you tried to redirect the behaviour he could get very angry. So the behaviours that we needed to focus on could be very basic things like how to move around the classroom, how to interact with others kids in an appropriate way.

[Children playground sounds]

When those kids went out on to the yard, and someone would play a game of football, [whistle sounds] as soon as there was any disagreement it was quick to turn to violence.

[Dramatic music]

We put a number of programs in place where we'd have teachers go out and just play games with kids. So that the kids were learning the appropriate way to react, so it wasn’t just a case of telling them how they should behave, it was modelling that behaviour for them.

Max: So if you think outside of the home, the school community is the most important social environment for young people, so it really pays that we try and make that as safe and as welcoming as we can.

Barbara: As you know we are going to start off with our counting and our alphabet song We want the students to come into the classroom into a really safe, secure environment, where they feel welcome and comfortable.

Class singing: Six, seven, eight, nine ....t, t, ten

Barbara: They need to know their routines, because that provides the security that their used to.

Kerry: I tell children of any changes that are going to happen in routine. I also make sure they have a buddy. Ok look at Mrs Cheeseman. How are we different? So they have someone to go to in the classroom or playground if they’re not sure what to do.

Barbara: At times they can come in, and they might have had a disappointment or something difficult that they’ve dealt with at home, and if they have that routine, it really gives them that security to leave that behind and then focus on what they’re doing now.

Class singing: Ninety seven, ninety eight, ninety hundred.

Narrator: The STARS model, developed by UNICEF, provides a useful framework schools can use to plan strategies that will help refugee students recover and feel safe and ready for learning.

Jacquie: Arafa, what did you have?

Arafa: Work hard and work as a group.

Jacquie: When we’re working as a magazine team, if one person’s not really giving their best, it’s going to let everyone down. The STARS model provides a really clear framework to make sure that the students in my classroom feel safe, welcome and comfortable in undertaking learning experiences.

Dana: STARS is an acronym, with S being Safety - providing students with a safe environment. Once safety has been established, there’s the Trust that gets built up because you’ve provided them with a safe environment.

Jacquie: Maria?

Maria: Treats me the way I would like to be treated.

Jacquie: Absolutely. It’s really good for you to expect that from the girls you’re sitting with. Building trust is something that doesn’t just happen at the click of a finger. It’s something that happens over time. Brigid?

Brigid: Show respect?

Dana: And with that Trust, there is Attachment, so they become attached to their environment, the people, they’ve built relationships with people around them, with their teachers, with their peers. What is the first thing that happens in the lifecycle of a frog? Henry?

Henry: The tadpole...hatch out of the eggs

Dana: Great answer...And with that Attachment is the Responsibility - start taking on Responsibility for their own learning. Then the skills start to be built up, and that’s when they start being successful and start learning.

Jacquie: Well done, good. Keveline?

Keveline: Not teasing each other? Like if somebody doesn’t know how to read, you can’t tease them.

Barbara: The STARS model looks at how we can support them in being able to give them feelings of security, of trust, being able to attach to people and form those relationships, and then become successful in being able to learn at school, because if children have got emotions that they’re not able to deal with. It’s very important that those issues are addressed and that they’re able to then operate in a happy and safe environment.

[Music louder]

Dana Castro, ESL Teacher, Marsden Road Public School

Barbara:...eggs and a fat belly...

Teacher: Scores a goal!

[Music fades out]

[End of transcript]

Watch how schools provide career and transition support.

Transition support for refugee students.


Teachers, Holroyd High School.

Louise Kleinbergs, Refugee Transition Coordinator, Holroyd High School.

Lina Ishu, Senior Youth Project Officer, STARTTS.

Ekbal Sayed-Rich, Relieving Deputy Principal, Fairfield High School.

Robert Mulas, Principal, Fairfield High School.

Teacher 1: So we have the word "sin", what does that mean?

Student: When you do something wrong.

Teacher 1: The IEC is an Intensive English Centre. They come here to try and get their English level up to high school level.

Narrator: Refugee students generally transition to school via an Intensive English Centre, an IEC. They may have spent up to 5 terms in the IEC developing their English proficiency.

Teacher 1: You can't learn a language in 4 or 5 terms, it takes years.So, what did you think about the movie? Moustafa, you didn't like it, did you?

Student: Because I didn't understand the movie, miss.


Louise: Refugee students are coming from horrendous backgrounds, and they've had incredible challenges in their lives, so when they arrive, many of them are suffering from a large amount of trauma. We're going to do a little activity about where do we go to for help. We need to ensure that, once they are here, we can set up a little sanctuary, help them feel safe. I'm going to hand this out to you ...

Narrator: They often arrive at school quite vulnerable, and in need of substantial support.

Lina: The experiences of trauma, and the backlashes that are coming to them, is when they settle here. It's because now they are in a safe environment then all the bad memories surface. You see a lot of students in the classroom they cannot concentrate. That's part of the trauma. A lot of students, they can't talk. Their brain is damaged at the moment in one way. So it's our role here to help them to adapt to the new culture.

[Upbeat music]

Louise: The front office is the first place that parents step into. The office staff have a huge part to play, in how people feel welcome in their school. Creating a welcoming environment, starting with the enrolment process, helping parents feel a part of the school, that to me is the first step.


Teacher 2: Today we're going to spend a little bit of time thinking about what we need to do in order to succeed at school.

Ekbal: When they come here one of the first things that they do is they have an orientation day, we call it a transition day. All of the things that help with their day-to-day organisation are explained to them. The timetables explained, the policies and procedures are explained, and they're introduced to their teachers.

Teacher 2: In front of you, you have two timetables.

Ekbal: Other things that we also do to support the students, quite often we buddy them up with other students. I have a year 12 student, she'll be introducing you to people, and giving you an orientation today. But we also have opportunities for them to engage in special programs such as the refugee transition program.

Robert: Once those students come to us, if they come into year 7, that's not much of a problem because they'll be here for quite a while. But if they come into year 10, they haven't really got a lot of time with us, so the refugee transition program has been invaluable.

Teacher 2: There is only one subject that you have to do in year 11. Does anyone know what subject it is?

Student: English.

Louise: The refugee transition role works with students who've been in Australia less than 3 years on a refugee or humanitarian visa. We target the students then to help support them with their literacy and numeracy needs and also with their adjustment into being in high school. If you start to feel sick at school, what would you do?

Student: I have to ask the teacher and the teacher would write a note?

Louise: I take classes in year 11 for fundamentals of English. Do you know Saeb, where...?

Student: I think I should go to the office.

Louise: We have the welcome program and we also run a large number of mentoring programs that really support refugee students and their understanding of what's necessary and what's needed for them in school and also for when they leave school.

Narrator: Often refugee students start their school life a long way behind Australian-born students. Providing extra transition support into and out of school, is important. It can be done by employing teachers within the school to work as specialist support teachers, as well as by engaging outside agencies to help mentor refugee students.

Teacher 1: ... because that would be good for you to have as well.

[End of transcript]

This resource assists high schools to deliver the Ready, Arrive, Work (RAW) program. It offers work readiness activities and strategies to engage EAL/D students in career planning, and learning more about local community organisations.

External resources

STARTTS is a specialist not-for-profit organisation, that partners with schools, to provide culturally appropriate psychological treatment and support for refugees and migrants who have experienced torture and trauma. They also offer individual consultancy support to school counsellors.

STARTTS Referral Form counselling referrals and telehealth counselling sessions to people with refugee experience

STARTTS School Liaison Officers professional learning for school staff

Hints for Healing Website free practical resources to support educators and school counsellors

Witness to War Hotline can be reached on 1800 845 198

Roads to Refuge website has teaching and learning resources for students in Years 5-12 and training materials for staff and community members. Roads to Refuge raises awareness of refugee journeys and settlement experiences through videos, case studies and classroom activities. This resource encourages people to become involved in supporting refugees in their school and community.

Image: Screenshot of Roads to Refuge website


  • DoE

Business Unit:

  • Educational Standards
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