IMAGINE the horror of seeing members of your family killed or raped. Imagine the torture of watching your village and home as they burn to the ground.

Now think what would be running through your mind as you flee the violent regime responsible for these traumas, with little more than the clothes on your back.

Fortunately, for most schoolchildren living in Bolton, closing their eyes to imagine is the closest they will get to the horrors some youngsters endure.

But many pupils at one school in Bolton have lived through such harrowing experiences.

They are experiences which, according to Katie Kellet, manager of the Starting Point school in Sharples, "no human being should go through".

The work of Starting Point in helping the children of asylum seekers and refugees - as well as youngsters who have come from any country, including those in Europe and America - has now been recognised by the Home Office as an example of best practice.

And education chiefs across the country are visiting the small school to learn how such efforts help to integrate these children into mainstream school and society.

Starting Point is the first organisation of its kind in the country. It is aimed at introducing young people to the English education system and explaining the "British way of life".

Katie said: "For example, we hold toilet lessons for all children. In some European countries, such as Greece, toilet paper is not flushed away but put in bins. In others, some people do not have bathrooms.

"Basics such as this are taught alongside numeracy and literacy. There is a huge emphasis on citizenship to teach them life skills, such as shopping and even queuing, which is a very English thing to do.

"The emphasis here is upon providing a safe, secure environment which offers consistency and stability. We aim to increase the self-confidence and communication skills of all pupils to enable them to cope better in mainstream schools."

Starting Point began in October, 2004, to help the children of Bolton's first Gateway Refugee Project, which gave people from Kosovo sanctuary from their war-torn country in the former Yugoslavia. Teaching was carried out on a site at Clare Court, Farnworth, where they were given refuge.

Katie said: "The children who went into mainstream schools and took their SATs achieved a level 2 or above. This was just brilliant, considering they were new to this country and what they had come from.

"Following the successful integration of that group into mainstream schools, it was decided that the same opportunity should be available for all international arrivals in the age range of five to 16."

So successful was the initial trial that Katie approached the Home Office to secure funding to move into premises in Selkirk Road, Sharples.

Today, the school is funded by all schools in the borough, who give a slice of their budget to keep it going.

Katie said: "It is the schools who benefit from what the children are taught here. Can you imagine the trauma of just being placed in a mainstream school? Children spend a minimum of six weeks at the school before being transferred into mainstream local schools.

"We have children from nearly every continent and more than 40 languages are spoken here. Some have just come from Europe as part of the free movement between EU states. Others are asylum seekers or those have come through the Gateway Project, such as Sudanese and Liberian refugees.

"Some of the children who have come through the Gateway Project have seen things no human being should ever witness.

"We have had unaccompanied children come to us. These are young people whose parents have sold everything to send them to this country. How desperate must they be, not knowing if their child will make it here alive? It is not so long ago that Jewish parents were doing the same with their children during the Second World War.

"We help the children by creating a safe and therapeutic environment for them. Like all children, the resilience of refugee and asylum seekers never to ceases to amaze.

"They are quick to want to belong to their new schools and neighbourhoods, make good relationships with their teachers and friends in school, and are eager to learn at school. Despite not being able to speak the same language, the children manage to communicate and get on."

The rewards of running Starting Point, according to Katie, is seeing the children leave the school and return for visits.

"When they leave here, their uniforms are pristine. When they come back, their shirts are hanging out, their ties are not done properly, so you know they have integrated successfully. To see them come back with friends they have made in mainstream school is just brilliant.

"Then there are the children who could not speak a word of English and they leave being able to speak it with confidence."

Such rewards are not without price though.

Katie said: "There are tears when children and their parents are deported or go into hiding because they are scared they are going to be sent back to their former homeland. And you do not want to think about what these vulnerable children are doing to survive."

She added: "We should remember that before they were asylum seekers or refugees, before they witnessed the stuff of nightmares, first and foremost they were simply children."

Although Katie did not want to be drawn too much on the politics of immigration, she said: "My father said that had Hitler won the war, then we too would be trying to flee this country and we would be the asylum seekers and would hope other countries would help us."

One of Katie's pupils, Eddie Iqbal, aged 15, has come over from Barcelona in Spain with his family and is now living in Ladybridge.

"This country is different, the weather is always bad!" he said. "It is good at Starting Point and I will be going to Rivington and Blackrod High School soon. I want to go back to Barcelona after I finish my education."