A united and effective principal and leadership team is essential for successfully implementing a whole-school approach to supporting students’ engagement, wellbeing and achievement at school. This section informs the school principal class, and broader leadership staff at your school.

This Section

Your school is a natural context for supporting students of refugee backgrounds because safety and inclusion, connections and belonging, meaning and a sense of future are built into its purpose. Effective school leadership teams are trauma-informed, culturally responsive and externally engaged with families and partner agencies.

Professional leadership empowers the entire school community by:
  • Setting the tone by modelling safety, empathy and equity.
  • Going out of their way to build relationships across the school community – including with families and outside services and agencies.
  • Creating supportive policies, procedures and practices across the whole school
  • Ensuring improvement initiatives are placed within the school’s strategic planning.

You can ensure adequate supports are in place by equipping your staff to identify students of refugee backgrounds in your school, including those seeking asylum.

Foundation House identifies ‘students of refugee backgrounds’ as:

  • Children and young people found to be refugees (as legally defined) prior to arriving in Australia under the Humanitarian Program.
  • Children and young people seeking asylum who arrive in Australia (usually with families) and subsequently apply for protection as refugees.
  • Children and young people who have suffered persecution in their country of nationality or usual residence, and arrived in Australia under another migration program.
  • Australian-born children and young people whose immediate family members fled persecution, e.g. parents/carers (intergenerational refugee background).

You may have students who are unaccompanied humanitarian minors (UHMs). They are under 18 years of age and arrived in Australia without parents.

It is helpful for you to consider the educational starting points of students of refugee backgrounds.

Their exposure to multiple traumatic events, combined with severely disrupted schooling and settlement challenges, have far-reaching impacts upon children’s functioning – which affects their learning, behaviour and emotional wellbeing.

What you can do

  • Consider: students are likely to need extra effort in academic skills acquisition.
  • Remember: that students will not necessarily have academic language proficiency in their first language, and it is not uncommon for children to speak multiple languages but have academic proficiency in none.
  • Interpret: students’ learning and behavioural difficulties initially through a trauma lens.

It is helpful to to link wellbeing with positive behaviour by considering students’ educational starting points and responding to their capacities.

Students of refugee backgrounds may exhibit behavioural difficulties, which – before considering other explanations – you should initially interpret through a trauma lens.

What sorts of behaviour might present?

  • Reactive, defensive, angry patterns of interacting in the classroom (with themselves and others).
  • Inability to tolerate frustration.
  • Withdrawal and disengagement, not learning, and unable to attend in class.
  • An apparent inability to form relationships with other children.
  • child unable to be calmed, to self-regulate or co-regulate with a known teacher.
  • Sensitivity to perceived injustice.

Things to consider

  • Students are likely to have experienced severe disruptions to their schooling, and in some instances no schooling at all before arriving in Australia.
  • Some students may be unfamiliar with class rules/structures, including the need to pay attention, follow instructions, complete assessments and work quietly.
  • Children and young people are likely to need support to build the social and emotional skills needed to make positive choices in the classroom.

Establish data systems to keep track of students’ engagement and achievement and to identify students requiring additional support. Ensure staff have access to these as required.

You can use data to develop early warning systems that monitor students in order to identify and proactively intervene with those who show early signs of attendance, behaviour or academic problems.

Early identification of students requiring additional support can be completed by constantly monitoring attendance, behaviour and academic performance.

These can be enhanced by including observational data collected by teachers and school staff. Such additional data can provide insights into students’ engagement and wellbeing through understanding their peer relationships and family backgrounds.

Other helpful data to collect

  • School community demographics: Gathering your school community’s demographic statistics is recommended, including:
    • To what linguistic groups do students and staff belong?
    • What percentage of students are of refugee backgrounds?
    • Which cultural and/or religious groups contribute to the life of your school?
    • To which local community groups do students belong?
  • Exit reports: Ensure ELS and feeder school prepared ‘exit reports’ for transitioning students are made available to teachers in your school.

Students’ recovery from traumatic refugee events occurs through their engagement, wellbeing and achievement in a positive and inclusive school climate.

Things to consider

  1. Multiculturalism

Students of refugee backgrounds feel supported when their school promotes cultural and religious diversity. In particular, many new arrivals would like to celebrate or recognise specific religious and cultural events at school as they occur across the calendar year. See DET’s Multicultural Education Resources.

2. Addressing racism

Schools benefit from dealing with racism in a proactive and public way. By proactively addressing racism at your school you are providing a vital protective factor for the engagement and wellbeing of students and families of refugee backgrounds. Assess your school’s current policies and practices that address racial discrimination by using VicHealth’s Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity (LEAD) school-based audit tool.

3. School physical environment

Your school’s physical environment plays an important role in supporting students and families of refugee backgrounds. You will see positive impacts when creative and practical strategies are applied across the school’s physical environment to promote safety and wellbeing.

4. Global citizenship

Students of refugee backgrounds are globally engaged learners to whom human rights, social justice and conflict resolution have concrete relevance.

Students who are seeking asylum [GG1] (i.e. they have applied for a protection visa) are enrolled in Victorian Government schools as international students but are not charged tuition fees. They can be enrolled and start immediately in government schools. Visit DET’s International Student Visa Fee Table for more information.

Supporting teaching and learning

Students of refugee backgrounds’ educational starting points are different to those of mainstream students and other migrants. The interaction of disrupted schooling, past traumatic events and current settlement challenges mean that students often require additional support for academic success. You can greatly support students by equipping your teachers to further adapt the good teaching practice they are currently doing.

Teachers at each professional career stage (Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished and Lead), are required to demonstrate a deepening level of proficiency in all seven Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.

You can greatly support students of refugee backgrounds by adapting the high-impact teaching strategies you are currently practising. The Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET) provides schools with the High Impact Teaching Strategies (HITS) Excellence in teaching and learning resource.

It is important to review how your school’s curriculum promotes inclusion and an understanding of cultural diversity among all students across your learning areas.

Inclusive curriculum supports students’ recovery by restoring their sense of meaning, identity and justice, and promoting their dignity and value. Additionally, with the appropriate curriculum, teachers can assist students to develop an age-appropriate understanding of the political causes of violence and human rights violations.

What you can do

  • Collect information and keep records about the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of students.
  • Ask your Multicultural Education Aides (MEAs) to contribute their cultural perspectives to curriculum content to make it more relevant to all students.
  • Review your curriculum and audit your library resources for cultural bias: Anglo-European culturally biased curriculum resources misrepresent the cultural and linguistic diversity of contemporary Australian society.
  • Provide students with opportunities to give curriculum feedback to teachers and school leadership (e.g. how it enables their participation/how racism is addressed/how diversity is acknowledged).
  • English: understand that English is one of many languages spoken in Australia and that different languages may be spoken by family, classmates and community.
  • Science: identify how ‘race’ is represented in your science curriculum.
  • Humanities: examine how identities are influenced by people and places
  • Health and Physical Education: allow students to participate in physical activities from their own and others’ cultures, and examine how involvement creates community connections and intercultural understanding.

Helpful curriculum resources

  • The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) Australia Curriculum Website connects curriculum with student diversity and promoting equity.
  • Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority’s (VCAA) Intercultural Capability curriculum resources are available to support the explicit teaching and learning of the Victorian Curriculum F–10: Intercultural Capability.
  • The VCAA curriculum resources were developed in collaboration with primary and secondary teachers from government, Catholic and independent schools as part of the 2018–19 Intercultural Capability Project.
  • DET’s Languages and Multicultural Education Resource Centre (LMERC) has an extensive range of items to support inclusive curriculum development and multicultural learning.

Strategic planning

Professional leadership strategically empowers the entire school community by creating supportive policies and procedures across the whole school . And ensuring improvement initiatives are placed within the school’s strategic planning.

SIFR is designed to complement the Victorian Department of Education and Training’s school-wide Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO). You can explicitly align your school’s initiatives to support students of refugee backgrounds with your FISO-related strategic plans and annual implementation plans.

School’s In for Refugees helps Catholic schools address their Horizons of Hope learning diversity and equity goals.

‘Catholic school communities embrace and celebrate diversity and difference, welcoming all members of the community as equal.’ (Horizons of Hope, 2017 Catholic Education Melbourne)

Horizons of Hope is the education framework for the Archdiocese of Melbourne. School’s In for Refugees helps you to link the Horizons of Hope vision with supporting students and families of refugee backgrounds.

School’s In for Refugees is also designed to inform your School Improvement Framework strategic planning and Annual Implementation Plans.

The School’s In for Refugees audit of current practices provides a thorough picture of how your school is currently meeting students’ and families’ needs, and where improvements could be made.

The audit also assists Catholic schools to link initiatives supporting students of refugee backgrounds with their Refugee Accountability Statements.

It is important to know what measures your school can take to best support students and their families. uncovers this knowledge and, as one school principal noted, it can take school planning from ‘scattered to focused’. The audit provides a thorough picture of how your school is currently meeting students’/families’ needs, and where improvements could be made. When your audit is complete, your school can identify and prioritise areas for action through the development of a whole-school improvement action plan.

Strategic Resourcing

Effective leaders determine what staffing expertise and funding resources are needed to achieve a whole-school capacity for supporting students of refugee backgrounds, and source and allocate them accordingly.

Strategic resource allocation is a critical factor in supporting students and families of refugee backgrounds – both for schools with large numbers of students of refugee backgrounds and those with very few.

By making well-informed resourcing decisions, leaders can enhance the impact of their school strategic plans and improve outcomes for students of refugee backgrounds. Strategic resourcing means securing and effectively allocating resources to support priorities, including the use of equity funding.

Things to consider

  • The specific needs of students of refugee backgrounds.
  • The needs of the parents and carers of students of refugee backgrounds.
  • Capacity of your teachers and wider staff for meeting the trauma recovery needs of students of refugee backgrounds.
  • The levels and forms of support that your teachers and school community need from external services and agencies.


Various staffing needs arise for both schools with large numbers of students of refugee backgrounds and those with very few. These relate to the various EAL, health and wellbeing, and transition needs, and the specialised expertise that is required in addressing them.

Depending on your enrolment numbers, consider establishing a designated refugee support leader role at your school. In some schools this is the school EAL coordinator or, for smaller schools, the student wellbeing coordinator or assistant principal.

This ensures there is a key advocate for students, and enables an ongoing support person to oversee their progress by:

  • Collaborating with school leaders to use data to inform planning and implementation of whole-school strategies to support students.
  • Working with learning and support teams to implement personalised approaches for refugee students.
  • Collaborating with school leaders and staff to provide opportunities and encourage in the life of the school.
  • Organising the delivery of professional learning for school staff, including school leadership teams.
  • Promoting partnership between your school and other services and agencies supporting students and families of refugee backgrounds.

Employing a Multicultural Education Aide (MEA) or bicultural worker/family liaison officer (FLO) in some schools, will enhance your school’s capacity to support students and families of refugee backgrounds.

  • MEAs understand the refugee experience and can do much of the work of partnering with families.
  • Some families report choosing schools based on the presence of an MEA from their language group.
  • Assist individual EAL students or groups of students in mainstream or EAL classes.
  • Provide teachers with insights into students’ cultural backgrounds and experiences.

For more information about MEAs’ roles and responsibilities in Victorian schools, see DET’s MEA Handbook.

You can support students of refugee backgrounds by anticipating specific health and wellbeing concerns to arise, and being prepared to respond with a multidisciplinary student wellbeing team.

What you can do

  • Appoint a student wellbeing/welfare coordinator (SWC) to liaise with teachers across your school, and work with other professionals and agencies to address student needs.
  • The SWC is responsible for collecting and sharing appropriate student information with relevant teachers to plan for the wellbeing needs students. DET funds are available to all government secondary schools to employ student wellbeing/welfare coordinators.
  • Depending upon your enrolment numbers, consider providing onsite support from health professionals, including a psychologist, speech pathologist and social worker.

Providing consistent and sustainable EAL practice and strategies across the curriculum can act as vital protective factor to promote wellbeing , support recovery and help engage students of refugee backgrounds.

What you can do

  • Consider your staffing allocations for EAL support staff. Additional support may be required across the curriculum.
  • EAL specialists in your school are the first point of call when supporting teachers with strategies to scaffold and modify learning support for students of refugee backgrounds.
  • Support your EAL specialists to collaborate with subject teachers to identify skills in different learning areas that can be developed in the EAL program as well as in subject classes.
  • Teachers may require allocated additional time for work involved with students of refugee backgrounds spent on EAL and classroom support planning.
  • Develop a repository of resources that have proven successful in the past, so that teachers can access and adapt these to their students’ needs.

Whether moving to secondary school from primary school, or entering school for the first time, children and young people of refugee backgrounds have specific transitional needs.

Schools that support transitions well see students’ recovery accelerated and their engagement with school enriched. Some schools employ a transition coordinator/officer to ensure a coordinated approach to transition and provide students and families with an advocate for ongoing support.

In some cases this is the school EAL coordinator or, for smaller schools, the student wellbeing coordinator or assistant principal. This ensures there is a key advocate for these students, and enables an ongoing support person to oversee their progress.

What you can do

Appoint a transition coordinator/officer to:

  • Liaise with feeder schools to provide support for students transitioning into your school community.
  • Oversee programs and initiatives that offer specific transition support – including transition clubs, welcome events, pre-transition visits to the new school, orientation days and tours of the school.
  • Work across your school staff to support students through improved transition processes.
  • Support students in their transitional pathways.
  • Identify parents’/carers’ skills and interests so you can target their assistance.
  • Help parents/carers obtain a Working with Children Check (WWCC).
  • Take a staggered approach by initially inviting parents/carers to volunteer and then match their skills with employment opportunities (from casual/part-time/full time), such as:
    • Education support and ancillary staff roles: library, sports, administration, projects such as ‘walking bus’, school crossings; and single events
    • Language background parent liaison worker to communicate between the school and parents/carers
    • Multicultural Education Aide (MEA) and bicultural worker. You can strengthen families’ pathways into your school and extend partnerships by appointing parents and carers to staff roles.This promotes inclusion and increases the capacity of your school’s parent/carer community by enabling parents/carers of refugee backgrounds to gain valuable work experience and training/study pathways (e.g. Education Support Officer).


With growing enrolments of recently arrived students with acute needs, a school principal exclaimed ‘Where can I find the money to support my refugee students?’

Students of refugee backgrounds do bring targeted funding into your school, which can be directed towards vital specialised supports. Establish a refugee student support fund to ensure the effect allocation of resources to support your priorities with students and families of refugee backgrounds.

Government schools in Victoria are funded through a program called the Student Resource Package (SRP).

The SRP includes equity funding. This is extra funding to help students who face challenges to learning. Students of refugee backgrounds bring equity funding into your school, including:

  • Equity (catch-up) funding to target students who enter secondary schools and are at risk of educational failure
  • eEquity (social disadvantage) funding that schools can use to deliver tailored educational programs that meet the needs of students of refugee backgrounds
  • Equity (mobility) funding for schools with higher proportions of students enrolling at the school during abnormal times
  • EAL index funding, made available to schools to staff EAL programs with appropriately qualified EAL teachers and multicultural education aides (MEAs)
  • EAL contingency funding, provided to schools, English language schools (ELS) that have a significant increase to their EAL student profile during the school year.

Visit How Victorian Government Schools can access Equity Funding for more information.

The Refugee and Asylum Seeker Wellbeing Supplement is funding to schools to support the wellbeing needs of students of refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds.

This funding is to support the improvement of wellbeing services for students so they remain engaged and supported during their school years.

For 2019, the annual per student amount is $455.32.

Schools do not have to apply for funding. The Refugee and Asylum Seeker Wellbeing Supplement is allocated to government schools based on the number of students who are asylum seekers or of refugee backgrounds enrolled at the August School Census.

Schools are responsible for using the funds within the guidelines provided by the DET. Visit Refugee and Asylum Seeker Wellbeing Supplement for more information.

Government schools in Victoria are funded through a program called the Student Resource Package (SRP). The SRP includes equity funding. This is extra funding to help students who face challenges to learning.

Catholic Education Melbourne New Arrivals Program includes grants for eligible schools.

You can also consider grants and partnership-based opportunities to secure funding. As part of a planned process, community grants can play an important part in raising capital to support projects between schools and agencies.

Five tips for writing grant applications:

  1. Plan! Take time to think about what you want to achieve and how you will achieve responding to the need identified.
  2. Demonstrate passion! Beyond responding to the criteria and guidelines, write with colour to spread the excitement about your project.
  3. Be inspired! Look at case studies of previously funded projects to learn about good practice.
  4. Bring to the table! Include in your budget, things you are contributing towards the project, whether this is funding or in-kind support to demonstrate your ownership.
  5. Think about sustainability! Communicate how the project will continue to benefit stakeholders beyond the funded period.

Some funding opportunity links:

Staff Wellbeing Initiatives

Your staff need ongoing wellbeing support because working with students and families who have survived refugee experiences can emotionally impact them.

Particularly after hearing about refugee events from students, your staff may experience some of the trauma responses your students exhibit. The ideal is for you to support them to maintain a balance between empathy and professional detachment – which enables staff to act in students’ best interests.

What you can do

  • Talk to staff and conduct a needs assessment and use data collected to inform staff wellbeing priorities.
  • Ensure wellbeing initiatives address identified issues and risks.
  • Allocate appropriate resources to support initiatives that positively contribute to the wellbeing of your staff.
  • Ensure your staff wellbeing programs consist of multiple strategies implemented over time.

Model and promote a shared approach to wellbeing where it is okay for staff to talk about the emotional impacts of trauma-related work upon them and their need for self-care.

Assist your staff to acknowledge and accept that being influenced by their exposure to students’ traumatic material is to be expected, and that sharing trauma-related work with others is helpful.

In the workplace, they can manage stress by:

  • Obtaining peer-support.
  • Balancing the variety and nature of work-related activities.
  • Pacing themselves and planning ahead for difficult situations.
  • Being realistic about help they can offer students and families.
  • Maintaining work–home and self-disclosure boundaries.

There is no cost for Foundation House’s School’s In for Refugees professional learning for your staff.

Staff feel supported in their work with students if a whole-school professional learning program is in place. Professional learning ensures there is continuous improvement around supporting students of refugee backgrounds.

Schools in for Refugees Professional Learning workshops provide information and resources to empower your staff.

Professional learning should cover:

  • The refugee experience, including impacts of traumatic events and recovery processes.
  • Responding to students’ trauma reactions and disclosures.
  • School procedures related to students of refugee backgrounds, e.g. using interpreters and Multicultural Education Aides (MEAs).
  • Inclusive classroom and curriculum strategies.
  • Building partnerships with families.

Your school can dive deeper by participating in the Refugee Education Support Program (RESP ) – a key component of Foundation House’s professional learning work with schools.

Debriefing aims to reduce staff stress caused by hearing about traumatic experiences, and is usually conducted by a trained facilitator in a group setting.

It involves gaining information from staff about emotional reactions, along with developing strategies for stress management. Debriefing is also a way to recognise and reinforce the value of staff’s work, and to understand difficulties and frustrations they may be experiencing. The facilitator clarifies what is said and elicits responses in order to increase understanding of the current situation, while also seeking solutions.

Engaging with Families

School-parent/carer partnership is a two-way collaboration based on good communication and trusting relationships, with the goal of enhancing children’s education.

The Australian Family-School Partnerships Framework shows the clear benefits of positive parent/carer engagement in their children’s learning, at home and at school. Collaboration between schools and families is vital for enhancing students’ learning and wellbeing.

‘There is confusion about homework. In my home country there was a different approach … Here parents are expected to help.’ (Parent)

Families of refugee backgrounds may have different expectations about the home help they can offer to their children’s learning.

In their countries of origin, parents and carers may have regarded teachers as unquestionable authority figures holding sole responsibility for their children’s education.  In Australia, they may lack confidence to support their children’s learning, particularly when a new language is involved.

There are many ways you can assist parents and carers to support their children’s learning, even if they do not speak English or cannot read in their first language.

Involving parents and carers of refugee backgrounds in your school’s decision-making and planning is vital to the success of your school-parent/carer partnerships.

Your Multicultural Education Aides (MEA) can assist with identifying and engaging parents/carers. Parents and carers are more motivated and take more active leadership when they participate in decision-making roles.

Examples of meaningful involvement for parents/carers include:

  • Helping with development of culturally relevant policies, e.g. establishing a prayer room.
  • Providing advice on culturally appropriate food for the canteen.
  • Participating on parent advisory and decision-making groups.
  • Using specialist skills to support teaching and learning within or across subjects, e.g. individual or professional skills, or cultural or linguistic knowledge and abilities.
  • Inviting parents/carers as guest speakers to share their professional knowledge.
  • Participating in curriculum working groups, e.g. selection of community languages or culturally appropriate resources.

Sourced and adapted from Opening the School Gate by the Centre for Multicultural Youth.

You can strengthen families’ pathways into your school and extend partnerships by appointing parents and carers to staff roles.

This promotes inclusion and increases the capacity of your school’s parent/carer community by enabling parents/carers of refugee backgrounds to gain valuable work experience and training/study pathways (e.g. Education Support Officer).

What you can do

  • Identify parents’/carers’ skills and interests so you can target their assistance.
  • Help parents/carers obtain a Working with Children Check (WWCC).
  • Take a staggered approach by initially inviting parents/carers to volunteer and then match their skills with employment opportunities (from casual/part-time/full time), such as:
    • Education support and ancillary staff roles: library, sports, administration, projects such as ‘walking bus’, school crossings; and single events
    • Language background parent liaison worker to communicate between the school and parents/carers
    • Multicultural education aide (MEA) and bicultural worker.

Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) is the national professional association for primary school principals in Australia. APPA represents affiliated state and territory government, Catholic and independent primary schools across the nation with over 7,000 members. It is the national voice on national issues and speaks directly to the Federal Government on matters that concern school principals and their school communities.

Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership (Bastow) offers development courses, events and resources designed to build the capacity of leaders in schools. Bastow’s mission is to develop capable and confident educational leaders by extending leadership capability and to promote continuous personal growth in dynamic leadership roles.

Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO) is an evidence-based, practical resource to help schools to implement its four state-wide school improvement priorities. Schools select and focus on one or two improvement initiatives, monitor their progress and evaluate the impact on student outcomes.

Victorian Principals Association is a professional association that recognises the opportunities and challenges that are faced by educational leaders and actively advocates for them in their complex roles of school leadership, by ensuring they are connected, united and empowered.

The Refugee Leadership Strategy developed by NSW DET, establishes refugee support leader positions in high refugee settlement areas to support schools.

Be You provides a variety of practical staff wellbeing resources for you to explore.

Human Resources Health, Safety and Wellbeing Policy documents the Department’s commitment to ensuring healthy and safe working and learning environments.

Student Support Services aims to enhance the capacity of schools to develop positive school cultures and to support students who are at risk of disengagement.