Enrolment and orientation

Enrolment is the school's first opportunity to welcome students from a refugee background and offer a positive experience so they feel safe and connected to their new community.

For many students from refugee backgrounds, enrolling in a primary school in Australia is their first experience of school. A nominated staff member, such as an EAL/D teacher or member of the school welfare team, can help with enrolment to collect relevant information and assess each student's needs.

Enrolment strategies

  • Make sure an interpreter is available, if required. Use telephone interpreting and book an interpreter for another day, if necessary. Advice on interpreter services is available to assist with bookings and translations.
  • If this is the student's first enrolment in a NSW government school, assist the family to fill out the Application to enrol in a NSW government school form. Explain the purpose of the form. This form is available in a range of languages.
  • Make contact with the family's caseworker (where relevant) and get their contact details to assist in communicating with the family.
  • Communicate with key school personnel, for example the school counsellor, an EAL/D teacher and welfare coordinator when a student is enrolling. A staff member may be nominated to assist in enrolment of refugee students, such as an EAL/D teacher or member of the school welfare team. Arrange for them to meet and greet the new student and family if possible.
  • Collect other relevant information about a student's background, interests and talents, family situation and previous education to inform the development of the student's learning plan. Show sensitivity when asking questions. Refugee students and their families may not feel safe providing personal information until they have developed a trusting relationship with school personnel.
  • Provide information about the school in first language if possible. This could include details of the uniform, bell times, activities, school rules and expectations, staff and homework. Provide students and families/guardians with information about support available, for example English as an additional language (EAL) teaching support, homework and tutorial support, help with uniforms and equipment, financial support to enable students to participate in excursions and other school activities, if needed.

Orientation strategies

  • Provide basic information about school routines as well as a school map and a timetable. For some students this may be their first experience of schooling and they may have no previous experience of school routines or reading and interpreting timetables and maps.
  • Organise an orientation program to help students understand school routines, expectations and teaching and learning practices. High levels of scaffolding may be needed in the first few weeks.
  • Arrange a 'buddy' for the new student, preferably who speaks their first language. The buddy may need to be shown how to help the new student.
  • Identify a staff member who new students can approach for assistance, for example an EAL/D or classroom teacher, a year adviser or stage coordinator or a welfare teacher. It is important to assign this role to a person who is at school and can be easily found every day.
  • Consider providing students with a basic stationery pack on enrolment and explaining the need to bring basic school equipment to school, such as exercise books, pens, pencils and ruler.
  • Offer assistance with uniforms and equipment - many refugee families may struggle to provide new shoes and other uniform items for all their children on enrolment. Refugee families may find it difficult to buy expensive equipment, for example calculators and laptops.

The Welcome Program

Orientation programs, such as The Welcome Program, can support newly arrived migrant and refugee background students enrolling in schools in Australia. Sessions include how to introduce students to school routines, staff and expectations about behaviour and learning as well as a component for parents about schooling in Australia.


It’s vital that newly enrolled students are given an orientation to their new school so they feel safe and welcome and can learn about routines and expectations. High school aged students transitioning from an intensive English program into a mainstream high school may require intensive support for some time.

See more in the video on effective enrolment and orientation processes below.

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]


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