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Social capital and refugee children : does it help their integration and education in Scottish schools

Smyth, Geraldine and MacBride, George and Paton, Grace and Sheridan, Nathalie (2010) Social capital and refugee children : does it help their integration and education in Scottish schools. Diskurs Kindheits und Jugendforschung, 5 (2).

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The 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act led to the dispersal of asylum seekers around Britain, with Glasgow City Council the only local authority in Scotland who agreed to house and support asylum seekers. The Glasgow Asylum Seekers' Support Project (GASSP) was established with funding from the Home Office National Asylum Seekers' Support (NASS) fund to provide housing, social work and education services for the asylum seekers in Glasgow. One result of this was the establishment of GASSP Units in 27 Glasgow schools. Research by Smyth (2006) into the perspectives of pupils in the GASSP units had observed a number of social capital building strategies used, albeit unconsciously, by both staff and pupils to enable integration of the refugee pupils into the mainstream school. Within the Applied Educational Research Scheme (AERS) network on social capital it was decided to fund a small scale case study to further explore this phenomenon. The aim of the case study was to investigate if and how teachers and pupils understood social capital; how it was interpreted in schools and if it impacted on their networks outside the school and on their families. The investigation involved three researchers conducting fieldwork in one primary and one secondary school in Scotland. Qualitative methodology was employed including analysis of policy documents; interviews and conversations with school staff and pupils; fieldwork in school observing teaching and learning situations and social situations. Pupil voice played a major part in the data collected, including photographic evidence collected by pupils themselves. The research found that teachers had clear aims to help the refugee pupils build social networks. While not necessarily using the term social capital they were certainly making use of a range of practices which built bonding social capital. In exploring the associated concepts with pupils we found an understanding of the importance of friendship and trust, the importance of cultural capital and some of the barriers to building bridging social capital. We were unable to establish clear evidence about the transferability of social capital to outside the school setting.