In the last year St Dunstan’s Primary School, Cheam, has enthusiastically welcomed at least 25 children who have arrived in the UK from Hong Kong. Melody, a Hong Kong heritage parent governor describes the pressures and conflicts of relocating, often without people wanting to. “Life here is very different culturally”, she explains. “Parents’ mental health could affect the children, so we felt it was important to give parents space to talk and get to understand some of the things about the UK.”

Consequently, Melody and Louise (the Deputy Head) decided to host a ‘coffee morning’ as a concrete way of connecting with, and welcoming new parents. With the benefit of the language skills and cultural knowledge of more than one parent, a bilingual flyer was designed and sent out to parents. Interdependence has been key; Louise says, “There is no way we could have been as quick to produce such an attractive, accessible flyer without their help.” ‘Coffee morning’ was translated as ‘Tea Gathering’ because the lady translating the flyer understood the language nuances and recognised that this was the best way to convey “the invitation to come in and talk, rather than drink coffee!” (for people who don’t drink coffee).

Doing something as simple as we did…[inspired by the Good Shepherd] like Jesus’ hospitality; we invited them in, to come in, feel safe, feel like they were being nurtured, you know to come into the sheep pen basically. Now they’ve got that comfort, when they speak to their kids, of experiencing [school] from the inside. (Melody- a Hong Kong heritage parent governor)

The event led to an increased sense of belonging and integration and spawned further informal, social gatherings outside of school. The Deputy Head believes that intentionally building relationships with newly arrived families has enabled parents to feel more connected and confident about sending their children on residential trips with the school. - Not a typical feature of their previous schooling.

They’ become ‘us’

She also marvels at the HK children’s “amazing language capabilities” (facilitated by tailored online resources) and the way “they have thrown themselves into everything, doing jobs and [taking on] responsibilities around the school, [confidently] walking down the corridors saying ‘Good morning Mrs Porter’, like they have been with us forever.”

All new arrivals are given a buddy who takes them to play or lunch and makes sure that they have got what they need …but then after a few days, everyone just swoops in [to welcome and include]. In the playground.. the children from Hong Kong are not just playing with other children from Hong Kong, and that is a really clear sign of integration.” says Louise.

The feedback we get from the Hong Kong families is that they don’t have to worry about their children. They know their children are in a safe space, their children are thriving in a way that they could never imagine and that gives the parents space to ..think about the longer-term things they have got to deal with ..and that is amazing for us to hear. (Melody)

The new children admit to having felt nervous, uncertain, and curious about starting in a strange new school. But they make a chorus of positive comments about the friendly, inclusive, and sharing environment of which they are now part. They proudly list recent achievements; “I have done well and made a lot of friends”,” I am proud that I have managed to adjust so well and get better at English”, “I learned to do cursive writing”, “I went on school journey”. The only reservations expressed sound commonplace: “having to line up” and “school dinners”!

Their more established classmates have evidently enjoyed the way that their new friends have expanded their horizons, teaching them new games, words, ‘movie characters’ and introducing them to Chinese cookies and moon cakes.

The newcomers have won their admiration: “They have been very brave about coming to a new place”, “they have adapted well”, “I admire that they are different to us and they speak different languages” “`they are different and ..from a different place and so they can tell us about other places”, “I like how they are really enthusiastic…and aren’t afraid to ask questions…and tell us about their culture”. “We have “learned to respect people’s cultures and languages”.

One HK child offers this insight; “we taught them [St Dunstan’s] how to be kind.”

St Dunstan’s got talent

One boy makes the connection with a children’s story called “‘I am the best, I win ..about a dog telling a ladybird.’I can dig better than you’ but then they [other characters in the story] say but I can do this… [they realise] each person had their own talents.”

St Dunstan’s recent journey of developing its anti-racism charter with its focus on celebrating diversity and inclusion has prepared the school for both the opportunity and gift of embracing new additions to the school community.

The school has relished the chance to “celebrate Chinese New Year like never before”. “The children were so keen to share what it meant to them” and the Chinese-heritage children have felt seen, heard and celebrated; “it bigged them up” The school was full of Chinese decorations and displays, with each class participating in activities. New families embraced the opportunity to make their own distinctive contributions, give resources and participate in school worship, (to explain cultural costumes).

More established families appreciated the way these celebrations sparked a “way into conversations with people they had been feeling shy about approaching.” Furthermore, 6-8 Hong Kong parents have significantly blessed the fortnightly parent prayer group by joining and more than doubling its numbers.

Louise constantly reminds the children; “everyone is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139;14).- there is no one like you. It is celebrating that we are all God’s children”.

St Dunstan’s ethos (to be guided by the Good Shepherd’) “means that being fully inclusive; welcoming and valuing all children and celebrating difference is who we are.. [what] the Good Shepherd did for the sheep, Jesus does for us.” Jesus’ example inspires the school to live this out by being hospitable. The children’s understanding of welcome reveals this seam of inspiration:

If there like is new sheep-like lambs [the Shepherd] would take care of them and feed them, so basically, like new people joining the school we take care and help them. The shepherd when he loses one of his a hundred sheep, he doesn’t just go ‘oh I’ve got a hundred sheep I have only lost one’, it doesn’t matter, he looks for it,.. [so] if a new person comes in and they are lost.. we can help them out.

According to one child, everyone’s flourishing is bound up together: “If you think about it, if the good Shepherd had not saved that lost sheep, then the other sheep might have gone looking for that lost sheep and he might have actually lost all of the sheep.” And one boy offers this advice to a friend about reaching out to welcome another.

“Its a bit like when you first met you shouldn’t be shy with them… just give it your best”