Last Updated: Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Working with young unaccompanied asylum seekers and refugees

What is this?

​This exemplar is based on the current practice of Glasgow Clyde College that works with young unaccompanied asylum seekers and refugees.​​

Who is this for?

​​​The case study is mainly for practitioners and providers working with young refugees and asylum seekers. It may also be of interest to local authorities experiencing spontaneous arrivals of unaccompanied minors. While this happens mainly in Edinburgh and Glasgow, other local authority areas may experience arrivals in smaller ​numbers.​​

How to use this exemplar to improve practice

This exemplar can be used as a model for any current initiatives that are developing to work with a group of young people with the same profile of being unaccompanied and seeking asylum. The advice and information given should be useful when planning and delivering learning to this kind of group.

In local authorities where unaccompanied young people may arrive in smaller numbers, ESOL providers may wish to consider a cross local authority model considering that almost all local authorities are now involved in refugee resettlement.

Practitioners need to be prepared to engage with a wider group of partners whose services are being used by the young people including (but not limited to) social work, accommodation services, guardians and psychological services. This helps to provide a more holistic approach to supporting the young people.

Practitioners should also consider other teaching approaches - as well as the more traditional classroom based ones - to engage young people in learning and to help them learn from each other. The 16+ ESOL Programme at Clyde College has worked with the John Muir Trust and the Forestry Commission and continues to develop partnerships with other organisations for the benefit of the learners.

While the current programme at Clyde College runs with two different levels of classes (Scottish Credit and Qualification Framework level 3 and level 4), it is possible to adapt this model to any level. Literacies is particularly challenging in terms of resources but the methodology would work well


PDF file: Glasgow Clyde College: ESOL 16+ Programme (52 KB)

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What was done?

The 16+ ESOL Programme was established to meet the needs of young unaccompanied asylum seekers. The programme supports their English language learning and gives them an opportunity to achieve an SQA ESOL qualification and from this, gives them an opportunity to progress on to other learning opportunities within and beyond the College. Because the programme is aimed at young refugees and asylum seekers, young people who then apply for this course are in a class with peers who have shared lived experiences. This enables peer support, personal development and engagement in the learning to happen more successfully.

Why was it done?

Many unaccompanied young people have insufficient language levels to access a school curriculum at National 5 or Higher level, or to study at NQ/NC level. Some may not even be literate in their own languages. Therefore, gaining a level of competency in English is a priority. Before they can begin to think about future vocational studying or higher education they need to gain both confidence in English and SQA qualifications.

As well as being able to access ESOL courses, these young people need to learn with their own peer-group. Not only is this pedagogically appropriate, but it also gives the young people an opportunity to build social relationships and connections with each other. Given their level of vulnerability and need, this group also require extensive guidance and support as well in an age - and context - appropriate curriculum.

Learning and teaching resources in ESOL traditionally focus on adults and conventional teaching resources for young people and targeted at specific types of young people such as English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners from European countries eg France and Spain.

What was the impact?

The impact of the programme on young people is highlighted in the film (link below) where two former students of the programme talk about their experiences and how the programme has helped them.

The programme has helped to reduce isolation among unaccompanied young people seeking asylum. It has helped to give them a sense of belonging to a group who share similar experiences. The stability and security in coming to a class every day has given them a sense of routine. Many achieve an SQA ESOL qualification and improve their language skills to enable them to progress to other opportunities.

The programme has helped to raise levels of attainment and achievement among a group of young people who would otherwise not have engaged in learning. It demonstrates the effects of positive role modelling through teachers and the programme coordinator working together and with external agencies and partners to ensure a holistic approach is taken in working with this group of learners.

Improvement questions

  • Have we successfully established an inclusive learning environment? How do we know?
  • How do we ensure there is an ethos and culture of inclusion, participation and positive relationships across the whole learning community?
  • How do you ensure the young people’s Rights are being recognised?
  • How well do we ensure that all young people feel safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and included?
  • How well do children and young people show consideration for others and demonstrate positive behaviour and relationships?

Recent developments

The 16+ ESOL programme at Glasgow Clyde College has been part of a Scottish Refugee Council led research project entitled Towards Best Practice in Educating Separated Children in Scotland. As part of this project, a suite of learning materials has been developed. These are available on the My Clyde site. To gain access to the resources, you will need to register which will mean creating an account with a username and password. Type in the enrolment key - “Routes to Learning" under Distance Learning Courses in the Commercial section. If you have any questions, please contact

The 16+ESOL Routes to Learning handbook sets out the approach, curriculum and teaching resources of Glasgow Clyde College's 16+ESOL programme for separated children (16-18). It is a helpful resource for lecturers and teachers educating separated children in Scotland, the UK and elsewhere, in colleges and schools or in the community as well as other professionals, such as social workers and guardians. Whilst developed for separated children, the resources may be used and adapted in other ESOL, EAL and other language learning settings. A link to further online resources can also be found in the handbook.

The full research report and executive summary can be found here - Towards Best Practice in Educating Separated Children

Partners came together at a conference to present findings from the project.

The live stream footage from the conference in Glasgow on educating separated children is on Youtube (64 mins). It features researchers from Stirling University presenting their findings into Glasgow Clyde College's 16+ESOL programme, as well as a presentation from two of the lecturers behind the programme.