On 20 February 2018, Education International and its European region ETUCE held a hearing in the premises of the European Economic and Social Committee to present the outcomes of a new report bringing together four national case studies analysing the state of education for refugees and newcomers’ in Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

The report highlights cross-cutting issues concerning refugees’ education and in particular, the need to reform the approach to newcomers’ integration across Europe, to ensure that schools are able to accommodate diversity and address newcomers’ specific needs.

It shows how in most cases, the obstacles facing students when integrating European education systems relate to insufficient resources, lack of professional development of school staff, lack of specialised, second language and language support teachers, and absence of coordination and cooperation across sectors and political-administrative levels in society. 

The study also reveals that European schools tend to segregate newcomers in their own classes and groups without carrying out a personalised assessment, based on the best interests of students. It warns against fragmented local projects, reliant on civil society and dependent on the individual efforts of committed teachers and principals, which cannot replace a comprehensive Framework.

Based on the findings of the four national case studies, it draws the following recommendations:

  • Every country must adopt a comprehensive national framework defining the baseline with regards to the reception, inclusion, and education of newly-arrived students. A system of monitoring and supporting local practices must be installed, granting the proper implementation. 
  • Every country must make it mandatory, as well as provide material and instructions, to teachers on how to conduct initial assessment of students’ previous life and school experiences. An individual approach is essential. 
  • Inclusion must be a primary organisational model and a starting point in all discussions on “what is in the best interests of children”, as Article 3 in Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates. Nevertheless, there is no inclusion without additional support. Thus, the main question is not whether a student will be included into the mainstream, but how to support him/her there.
  • A child’s first language should be acknowledged and valued as an important vehicle for learning and identity development. The presence of language support teachers (cultural and linguistic mediators or bilingual classroom assistants) and the support from inside the school for their work is indispensable. 
  • Professional development of teachers in the areas of education of newly-arrived children, intercultural pedagogy, and multicultural classrooms must be a national priority in every country. A well-designed plan must be produced in every school, preferably in cooperation with universities, on how to create a learning community and support teachers’ peer-learning.
  • Networks drawing on resources from the local community, civil society, and parents must be fostered and further promoted but they cannot be accountable for what and how schools are doing. 
  • National governments and international organisations, such as the European Commission, must invest more in longitudinal and country comparative research in order to scientifically inform policy making.