English classes: the key to integration

by Dr Jenny Philimore For many years now politicians and the tabloids have pointed to so-called self-segregation of migrants and their alleged reluctance to speak English as responsible for their lack of integration into economy and society in the UK. As a result much policy focus has been placed on trying to encourage cross-community connections and linking applications for citizenship to ability to speak English. New research from the Institute for Research into Superdiversity, University of Birmingham, and the University of Cardiff provides evidence showing that for refugees at least, there is no reality behind the rhetoric. Using survey data – the [more]

Latin American Regimes

  An overview of a troubled past   By Tania Farias “From the deep crucible of the homeland. The people's voices rise up. The new day comes over the horizon. All Chile breaks out in song…” claims the first verse of We Will Triumph, a supporting song for the Popular Unity coalition led by Salvador Allende in Chile. According to the Revolutionary Democracy journal (2003) the Chilean songwriter and activist Víctor Jara sang this song defiantly after having been violently tortured in the Chilean Stadium (renamed later Víctor Jara Stadium). He had been arrested – and five days later assassinated - because of his [more]

Asylum seeker pregnancy: a very sad situation

By Tania Farias Pregnancy is a very special state for a woman, one which requires complex and specialist care to assure the well–being of both, the mother and the unborn child. Pregnancy is also a time to share and be cheerful with family and friends. However, not every woman can enjoy such a protective support and some of them are exposed to very unstable situations. A pregnant asylum seeker under the support of sections 4, 95 or 98 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 will be offered accommodation and financial support but she won’t be exempt from UKBA dispersal policies, meaning [more]

Reflections: Through the eyes of a refugee

By Mercedes What do I hear when I listen to the city, when I look to the future in this place that surrounds me? I see a neighbourhood of multiple languages, cultures, sounds, and fragrances. I see a woman wishing to tell the city that she and her child crossed the ocean and several continents to feel secure. She did not want to hear the screams of people running from the effects of war, hunger and disease. She wants to explain that she doesn’t understand what happened. Her town was peaceful before the modern tanks and men in strange clothes speaking strange [more]

Each journey entails a hundred possibilities

By Kate Monkhouse Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) works with refugees and other forcibly displaced people, promoting their rights and providing a range of direct services. In London, JRS UK runs a weekly day centre at its base in Wapping, where each week up to 120 refugees come for lunch, some practical help and to share the joys and sadness of life in this country. In carrying out its activities JRS UK works in partnership with like-minded organisations, such as English PEN, a free speech and literature charity that campaigns to defend and promote free expression. English PEN’s trainers have run several creative [more]

From Sri Lanka With Surgical Skills

Vicky Ilankovan interviews her father Since I was eight I wanted to be a doctor. I still remember using pencils as injection cylinders and giving people sachets of powder from the kitchen to make them feel better. The concept of doing something to help people has always fascinated me. However, the year that I was to enter medical school in Sri Lanka was the year the policy of standardisation came into force. This meant that Tamils needed substantially higher marks than Sinhalese in order to get into university. For example, Tamils needed 250 points to get into medical school whereas the Sinhalese [more]


The long road to teaching

By Beatrice Ngalula Kabutakapua

Ashraf Javdani outside Rokeby School in Newham. Photo by Beatrice Ngalula Kabutakapua.

Iranian teacher Ashraf Javdani recalls the struggle of finding a permanent position through the Jobcentre despite extensive teaching experience and university qualifications.

Ashraf left Iran for London in 2005, before her country was hit by a series of anti-governmental demonstrations. With little knowledge of English, yet 15 years of experience working as a speech and language therapist at the Ministry of Education in Iran she thought she could start in a UK school as a Teaching Assistant in Farsi and Dari – Iranian and Afghan languages. She didn’t expect it would be so hard.

She says, “It was really challenging to find out the correct information and the right direction.

“But I really wanted to teach.  I‘ve always loved teaching.”

In her first year in the UK, Ashraf improved her English. While looking for more information on how and where to work as a special educational needs teacher, she received income allowance.

To work in the UK overseas teachers need a recognized UK degree equivalent, GCSE English and Maths (and sometimes a science subject) and experience in a mainstream school classroom.

Unaware of the GCSE English requirement, Ashraf studied biomedical science at university in 2007. She says, “I went to an information centre, and I was told I needed a degree from here, nobody said to me I needed a GCSE in English.”

After her honors degree Ashraf spent one year as a jobseeker at the JobCentre.

“If someone had to ask me, that was the most difficult period of my entire life,” she says. Despite her qualifications and experience, Ashraf couldn’t find a suitable position and felt the JobCentre was not working well for her since they did not have enough information for professionals. Through the Internet Ashraf found the Refugee into Teaching project at the Refugee Council and Employability Forum.

Employability Forum referred her to Empowering Learning, a teacher training and recruitment agency, through which Ashraf obtained a position as a special educational needs (SEN) teaching assistant (TA) at Rokeby Secondary School in Canning Town, where the English designer Alexander McQueen also studied.

Lynne Hannigan, director of Empowering Learning, remembers helping Ashraf through her journey. In November 2010, the teacher was taken up by Rokeby school for a work experience role as a SEN TA, first one day a week, then five. After six weeks she was offered a temporary post and in January, Ashraf  was offered a permanent position at a higher level.

Ms Hannigan adds that part of the problem when migrant and refugee teachers look for jobs is that schools fear that they will not fit in and that their teaching will be too formal. She adds: “By committing to six weeks working as a co-teacher, people like Ashraf can prove they can adapt and schools like Rokeby can see the strengths they offer.

“I believe migrant and refugee teachers find it even more difficult to work in a recession, I saw this when teaching in the 1980’s and meeting professional refugee parents who desperately wanted to make a contribution.”

The Office of National Statistics says that between 2010 and 2011 the number of migrants coming to the UK looking for a job decreased by 22%. And those here are sometimes advised to use alternative services to the JobCentre.

Sarah Lawson is assistant head teacher at Rokeby School. She says they successfully hire foreign teachers. About Ashraf she says:

“No one else in the school has her range of expertise. She had worked for many years with disabled students and so had insights into working with certain types of student that other candidates did not have.

“Ashraf speaks languages that no other member of staff speaks and shares many experiences with some of our students. This gives her added insight into how they are feeling and facilitates communication with families.”

Smiling outside what she defines as “the most wonderful place” she ever worked in, Ashraf is now satisfied and keeps studying to improve her teaching skills.