Transitioning into second-level: the Refugee Access Programme

While emigration is a current reality for many young people, immigration is also a permanent long-term reality.

In Ireland one in eight children in post-primary school are from a migrant background.

For many, English may not be the language spoken in the home but rather it is a second or third language.

These young people need particular, tailored supports in order to access the curriculum.

Within the migrant population there are diverse groups, including Separated Children Seeking Asylum.

Separated Children Seeking Asylum or unaccompanied minors are “children under 18 who are outside of their country of origin and separated from parents...They may be seeking asylum because of fear of persecution or the lack of protection due to human rights violations, armed conflict and disturbances in their own country” (SCEP).

In Ireland, once a young person has been identified as a Separated Child, they are placed in the care of the HSE. The child frequently has no sibling, close relation or friends in Ireland and as a result is very isolated.

Separated Children come from many different countries and have varying experiences of education. Some come from very disrupted education backgrounds while others have little to no experience, or no recent experience, of schooling.

Many have had limited English language education and some have the added challenges of literacy difficulties in their first language.

Furthermore Separated Children can be quite alienated going through a process of adaptation and acculturation, and as a result of limited social support networks and of not having grown up in Ireland many have little or no understanding of the Irish education system.

The CDVEC Separated Children Service offers a range of supports that aim to address the wide range and complexity of issues and challenges that young asylum seekers and refugees face.

It seeks to address their need for practical as well as emotional support through an education and youth service. The Refugee Access Programme (RAP) is one of the supports within the service.

The RAP is an intensive transition programme which aims to equip newly-arrived Separated Children and other young people from refugee backgrounds with the skills and tools necessary to engage with the second-level curriculum.

A student referred to the service can start on the RAP at any time during the year. They participate in the programme for 12-16 weeks, in accordance with their care plan, before normally transitioning into a secondary school.

In addition to establishing or reinforcing the routine of schooling, particular skills which are necessary to engage with the second-level curriculum need to be developed.

Since the schooling of students varies, the extent to which these key skills have been developed also varies significantly.

As well as having to learn English in a relatively short period of time, students need specific support with learning to learn.

Language and literacy development are key components of the RAP. As a result of student diversity, the RAP has had to adopt a differentiated approach to teaching which is embedded in materials and methods used.

A recent resource produced by the RAP specifically addresses transition to second-level school. Stepping Stones: Starting Second-Level School in Ireland was developed in order to prepare newly-arrived Separated Children for school life in Ireland.

The film and accompanying teaching resource was inspired by the stories of young people who took part in the film project.

Active learning methodologies and differentiation are embedded in the resource, and tasks focus on developing both receptive and productive skills.

While the resource was originally devised to be used with refugee/migrant students, due to the similarity in issues affecting any young person transitioning into second-level school, many of the lessons are of relevance to a much broader youth and education audience.

Further information on the project can be found at or by contacting the CDVEC Curriculum Development Unit directly.

The Refugee Access Programme is a project of the CDVEC Separated Children’s Service which is co-financed by the European Commission under the European Refugee Fund and is supported by the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration in the Department of Justice and Equality and Pobal.

                                        Student Shadow Puppetry Story

             Pre-Mural Artwork                                                    Student Character