When we first started working with the children in Dunkirk we noticed that almost all of the children were relatively recently arrived from outside Europe. Our main focus was upon teaching the European alphabet and number system and getting the children school-ready. Over the last month or so we have noticed a number of children turning up with some German vocabulary and this week for the first time we had some children arrive with French. Surprisingly many of the children are still unable to use the European alphabet, but they have clearly spent time in other European countries so we are able to use those languages to help us bridge communication gaps.
We have been very successful in getting our pupils to engage with the local French schools. Almost all of our regular pupils are now attending the French schools. We spent a week helping to round up the children each day and accompanying them to local schools. Then we spent another week just rounding up the children and waving them good bye as they went to the French schools. This week for the first time we have also taken a step back from rounding up the children. They now know the times of the buses and the bus departure point and are confident and happy to getting the bus and going to school.
We had another minor blip this week in that one of the local schools was having exams so the children going to that school were not able to attend. We therefore stepped back into camp school mode for those children and provided lessons. Apart from that, however, we have been very quiet in school. We are very keen that the children should not get the impression that there are different schools and that they can choose between them. So, where we have children attending the French schools, we are very deliberately not offering them lessons in the camp. We meet with the children and chat with them regularly, so that if they have any troubles or concerns then they know that they can always talk to us.
With transition going so well, we are almost at the point where we can disengage educationally from the camp at La Liniere. However the purpose of school is not just educational. Whilst we have provided education, we have also been a safe place that children can come to and talk about anything that concerns them. As teachers we are very clearly independent of all the different influences in the camp. We do not align ourselves with the gangs, the police, the camp organisers or indeed any individual or influential members of the communities in the camp. As teachers we are always polite and professional with everyone in the camp, but we do not cross professional boundaries. We do not go into shelters for meals with families and we do not socialise or befriend those we work with. So we maintain an objectivity in the camp which means that the children do not associate us with anything other than being teachers. In the past this has been very important as it has meant that children feel able to come and talk to us about approaches from strangers and other issues upsetting them in the camp. Until the children have built relationships with their new teachers, there is therefore an important non-educational safeguarding role which we continue to do.