PRIVATE school teachers who’ve welcomed refugees as pupils say the visa processing for vulnerable students is too slow.

Steve Marshall-Taylor, head of senior school at Brighton College, said his school had made 17 offers of free places for Ukrainian refugees, with 16 having already arrived.

An experienced pastoral teacher is working with the students individually to create a suitable curriculum and gauge their level of English.

“What I think we’re aware of is a sort of ongoing sense of them navigating the trauma of the destruction of their home country, but also so many people that they’ve left behind, and friends,” he said.

“Every day they are navigating what we see on the news or hear on the radio,” he said.

Mr Marshall-Taylor said visas were not being processed quickly enough, with a host parent who was a trained legal professional spending five to six hours filling in the forms with the Ukrainian mother and daughter she was supporting.

“It was incredibly difficult just to complete the forms and then there was a huge time lag for almost all of them,” he added.

“That sort of void of uncertainty, we knew we had wonderful families, we had school places, we had uniform, and everything was ready, we had a sense we could provide some good opportunities, but there has just been this wait.”

He said a silver lining of this experience was that pupils had become involved in the democratic process through writing to their local MP to ask about the progress of the visas.

Samantha Price, head of Benenden School and president of the Girls’ Schools Association, said her school had opened up a boarding place for a Ukrainian student this term, so that she could start studying her A-levels in science in September, while two day school places had been offered to other refugee pupils.

She added that for the student who would be boarding, “it’s complex and it’s really frustrating”.

“She’s going to be travelling on her own and her mother has managed to get her out of the Ukraine – they live in Odesa. But her visa hasn’t come through because she’s going to be a minor travelling on her own and there’s a worry about trafficking.”

The girl can no longer stay with her mother in Moldova, so she could either travel with her mother back to Odesa or to the UK, but at the moment the Home Office is not granting her a visa.

The girl’s proposed guardian in the UK has now offered to fly to Moldova, which Ms Price said she hoped would be “a way forward”.

Ms Price added that she understood the concerns about trafficking, “but I think there must be a better system if guardians over here through an expected scheme have been recognised, there must be a way then for those pupils being able to fly over without having to go through this level of delay and uncertainty”.

Ms Price said that if a guardian had gone through barring checks pupils should be able to fly over on their own to speed up the visa process.

She said her school was offering “bespoke” support to the pupils – one pupil who has limited English will be able to take qualifications in Russian as well as studying biology and English as an additional language.

“It’s also the fact that these students are coming from a war zone and ensuring that they have the right levels of pastoral care, with trauma counselling and so on.”

The boarding school pupil’s peers have opted to “kit out” her dorm in order to welcome her, with duvet covers, cushions, fairy lights and plants “so that when she arrives she has a happy dormitory to go into”, while parent donors have offered to cover the cost of any extra-curricular trips or activities for the pupils.