Supporting students from refugee backgrounds

Schools play a key role in supporting students from refugee backgrounds, particularly during the first few years of their settlement in Australia.

Students from refugee backgrounds are a diverse cohort. Some students may have had extensive schooling, while others may have had highly disrupted or minimal access to formal schooling. Some students may have limited literacy abilities in their first or additional languages, while other students may have literacy in many languages.

Many refugee experiences are characterised by exposure to violence, loss, persecution, forced displacement, and a protracted and complex resettlement process. Upon arrival in Australia, families often face challenges in gaining stable employment, securing affordable housing, and learning English, whilst also managing the effects of trauma, loss and separation.

Students from refugee backgrounds require additional support from teachers and school staff to develop the English language and learning skills they need to succeed in Victorian schools. There is a range of programs, support and advice available to help guide schools and staff who are supporting refugee background students and families.

Refugee education supports

Refugee Education Support Program (RESP)

The Refugee Education Support Program (RESP) is a department-funded initiative delivered by the Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY) and Foundation House in collaboration with Catholic Education Commission Victoria (CECV) and Independent Schools Victoria (ISV).

Through RESP, clusters of government and non-government schools receive intensive support from Foundation House and CMY to identify and implement strategies that improve achievement, engagement and wellbeing outcomes for students from refugee backgrounds.

Schools participating in RESP are set up as a cluster. Clusters operate for 2 years and are grouped by geographical region.

For more information about RESP, contact the Multicultural and Refugee Supports Unit via email at

Professional learning and resources

The Schools Support Program (delivered by Foundation House) and the Learning Beyond the Bell program (delivered by CMY) are department-funded initiatives that aim to build the capacity of schools to support students and families from refugee backgrounds:

These supports are available to all schools across Victoria.

Teaching and learning

Many students from refugee backgrounds are English as an Additional Language (EAL) learners.

Newly arrived EAL students can access an intensive full-time program or targeted support to help them in the initial stages of learning English. EAL students are also supported to learn English in mainstream schools.

For further information, refer to:

  • English as an Additional Language (EAL) – provides information regarding supporting EAL students in primary and secondary schools.
  • Newly arrived students – new arrivals programs provide intensive EAL tuition in a range of settings.
  • Resources for EAL Teachers – published by the department to support EAL teachers and schools to plan and deliver effective programs.
  • LMERC – LMERC is a specialised library for teachers in the areas of EAL, Languages, Cross-curriculum priority areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia and the Intercultural capability. The library also has a wide range of culturally and linguistically diverse resources. LMERC staff can be contacted for advice about resources at LMERC and online.
  • Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) - EAL Curriculum – information regarding the new EAL curriculum is available on the VCAA website.

Supporting students seeking asylum

Asylum Seekers are children or adults who have arrived in Australia and sought protection as a refugee, but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been assessed.

Students seeking asylum are eligible to enrol in Victorian government primary and secondary schools and are not required to pay international student fees. Students become fee exempt from the day the humanitarian visa application is lodged. For detailed guidelines refer to:

Some families seeking asylum may experience financial hardship and may require additional support to participate in school activities. Families who are on bridging visas, temporary protection visas, are in community detention, or are seeking asylum may be eligible for the Camps, Sports and Excursions Fund (CSEF). For further information, refer to:

Student wellbeing and mental health

Students from refugee backgrounds may have experienced trauma, persecution, loss and displacement. Schools play a key role in building positive and inclusive learning environments and supporting students to address the psychological impact of these experiences.

For many students from refugee backgrounds, the resettlement process is complex and ongoing, along with managing the effects of trauma and separation, their families may face challenges gaining stable employment, securing affordable housing and learning an additional language.

School-based interventions may include social-emotional learning programs, counselling, group programs, mentoring and buddy programs.

For further information refer to:

  • Foundation House – provide counselling to students and families of refugee backgrounds to address the effects of their traumatic experiences.
  • Student Support Services Officers – provide specialist advice and support to schools, including guidance officers, psychologists and social workers.
  • Mental health toolkit – provides expert guidance and resources on mental health promotion and support for schools.

Strengthening engagement with families from refugee backgrounds

Building strong partnerships with families from refugee backgrounds helps to improve education outcomes for students.

While all families have high aspirations for their children, parents and carers from refugee backgrounds may be unsure about the contribution they can make to their children's schooling. Many families from refugee backgrounds will be unfamiliar with the Australian education system and have limited knowledge of education pathways. 

Some families may have limited literacy skills in their first language and may have had limited access to formal schooling themselves.

Schools can take practical steps to strengthen parent engagement by:

  • using telephone and on-site interpreters to support communication with families
  • providing parents with the department's translated resources
  • arranging translations of key school information
  • communicating via a range of formats to support families who may have low literacy levels in English and/or home languages for example graphics, visuals, audio files, videos
  • supporting families to engage with the school's digital communication tools for example assistance to download and use the school's apps, assistance to use school's online platforms
  • working with Multicultural Education Aides (MEA) to strengthen engagement with families.

For further information, refer to:

Settlement support

The Australian Government provides settlement services to support refugee children and families when they arrive in Australia.

By working in collaboration with settlement service providers, schools can support the wellbeing of students and families from refugee backgrounds.

  • Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP) – this program provides early practical support to humanitarian entrants on arrival, and throughout their initial settlement period, generally for up to 18 months after their arrival to Australia.
  • Settlement Engagement and Transition Supports (SETS) Program – this program provides clients with settlement-related information, advice, advocacy, and assistance to access mainstream and other relevant services. The SETS program is generally available for up to 5 years after arrival in Australia. This program is delivered by a range of community agencies across Victoria. A list of the funded providers can be found at SETS Community Capacity Building.

Refugee Week

Refugee Week is held annually in June. Schools are encouraged to involve their staff, students and communities in activities to raise awareness of Refugee Week through the school curriculum, extra-curricular activities and local events.

In addition to classroom activities associated with Refugee Week, schools may wish to consider:

  • sharing books and stories with a focus on refugee experiences
  • organising a film screening which highlights refugee journeys
  • holding school assemblies and concerts celebrating the cultural diversity of the local community
  • school poetry or essay competition
  • exhibitions of student artwork.

For further information refer to: Refugee Council of Australia – Refugee Week.