Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet)

Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland

Supporting the integration of new arrival children in Europe: The Portfolio of Integration (POI) Project

 Alan Britton is lecturer in Education at the University of Glasgow. This blog post is written with thanks to: Francesco Lucioli, Evelyn Arizpe, Hazel Crichton, Julie McAdam, and Stephen McKinney.

A team of staff from the University of Glasgow’s School of Education has been working on an innovative multinational investigation into how best to support the integration of new arrival children. Oxfam Italia is the lead co-ordinator of the Portfolio of Integration Project, funding for which came from the EU Lifelong Learning Programme for 2011-2013. Alongside the Italian and Scottish organisations there are Partners providing expertise (and quite distinct contexts) from Greece, Poland, and Turkey. A combination of migration into the EU and raised internal EU mobility in the wake of the two most recent enlargements means that schools in many EU countries are experiencing rapid growth in the numbers of such children.

As the name suggests, POI provides a new approach to the educational integration of new arrival children and young people in Europe. A primary aim of the overall project is to help teachers to enrich both their intercultural and their educational expertise in order to support a more nuanced and sophisticated application of the principles and practices of integration.

The POI project consortium was designed to explore the contextual differences between 3 representative groups of countries: those with a colonial legacy and some historic experience of immigration (represented in POI by Scotland/UK); countries that recruited so-called “guest-workers” in the second half of the last century and with more recent patterns of migration or status as transit points (Italy and Greece); as well as countries with historic traditions of primarily outward migration (Turkey and Poland). The aim has been to collect these countries’ different perspectives, needs and experiences in school integration; to identify common central threads in order to refine observational methodologies; and to develop context-appropriate tools to support the inclusion of new arrival pupils.

The OECD PISA survey on standard academic skills of 15-year-olds suggests that new arrivals in this age group tend to perform systematically less well than ‘host’ country pupils across each of the tested subject areas: science, mathematics and, most strikingly, reading. New arrivals are more likely to leave school early in almost all EU countries. PISA also highlights a particularly stark point for education policy makers – attainment gaps in certain countries within each of the three study domains actually increase from the first generation of new arrivals to the second. This means that education in these situations appears to be failing to affect the increasing gaps in educational attainment thus cementing and intensifying ongoing social exclusion.

Education is therefore a key means to ensuring that such pupils are equipped to become integrated, successful and active citizens of the ‘host’ country. It has the potential to be a positive force both for migrants and for the ‘host’ country. Schools can and should play a leading role in creating an inclusive society: integration at class level can be understood as a microcosm of integration in wider society. When incorporated successfully, new arrival pupils can in turn enrich the educational experience of all: linguistic and cultural diversity brings added value to schools as well as deepening and strengthening pedagogies, skills, and knowledge itself.

Within classes and schools, it is necessary to address the increased diversity of mother tongues, cultural perspectives and personal histories. New, more responsive teaching skills are needed and new ways of building partnerships with migrant families and communities need to be developed. If schools are more successful in serving their migrant pupils well, this will prepare the way for their successful integration in the labour market and wider society. In this way, good schooling of migrant pupils addresses issues of both equity and economic efficiency.

In order to facilitate this shift in pedagogical emphasis, the POI project has, since 2011, been developing, testing and disseminating an innovative pupil observation instrument – the Notebook of Integration, designed by Oxfam Italia and previously utilised in Italy by a number of Local Authorities. The Notebook has been piloted in schools across the Partner countries alongside tailored professional development support for participating teachers. The impact of the use of this instrument is currently being assessed to see if it can be adapted for use more generally within and across other European contexts.

Prior to embarking on the Course development phase, each country undertook a needs analysis to evaluate the existing support activities for new arrival pupils. In Scotland this involved reviewing the most relevant policy, reports and literature, together with focus group sessions and interviews with practitioners and policymakers. The evidence that emerged demonstrated that while the diversity of contexts represented by the Partnership is mirrored in sometimes radically different approaches in current practice, there appeared to be sufficient conceptual value in the Notebook to apply the overall conceptual architecture and training structure in a comparative fashion.

Across the 5 Partner countries the Needs Analyses found that:

  • Although the historical and social contexts, and the nature and scale of immigration across the Partner countries, are all different, the perception of new arrivals’ needs and the social contexts that they find themselves in, are often shared across the countries. A universal theme was the positive impact of dedicated language support and a commitment to cultural inclusion in schools that celebrate cultural diversity;
  •  In all POI partner countries ‘education’ is understood as a crucial contributor to the social integration of new arrival students and their families;
  • The process of supporting and managing the needs implied by more diverse student populations has to be preceded by a sophisticated evaluation of their educational needs. Teachers’ confidence in applying such analysis is currently limited, which suggests that the materials developed by POI are both timely and of potential value.
  • The teacher best able to support new arrival children will have thorough theoretical knowledge about the influence of a range of factors on the general social integration of these young people and will be able to apply their understanding of these mechanisms within the teaching and learning process.

A number of critical success factors emerged from the needs analysis across the partner countries:

  • Critical self-appraisal of the teacher’s values, knowledge and skills;
  • Effective additional training to meet the potential emotional, social and educational needs of new arrival pupils;
  • Additional training specifically to address the language needs of newly arrived pupils;
  • Recognition at policy level of how the ethnic diversity of the teaching profession itself ought to be widened;
  • The need for teacher education at all stages to facilitate an understanding of culturally responsive pedagogy;
  • Recognition of the concept of the intercultural (rather than multicultural) school;
  • A holistic view of children and diversity;
  • Recognition that supporting new arrival students is a whole school issue;

Having undertaken this systematic review across the different Partner countries, the next step in the Project has been to apply the lessons learned and recommendations from this research within the training phase of the Project. Each country has identified a cohort of teachers to work with, who are currently following a series of structured professional development inputs led by experienced trainers. Given the different contexts across the POI Partnership, each training course has required a degree of flexibility and is therefore subtly different, however the core activities are common to all participants and structured around the Notebook in order to establish whether there is scope for a common policy and practice approach across different EU countries that might garner greater visibility and support for education-focused integration.

In the case of Scotland, this has involved working with a cluster of schools and teachers in South Lanarkshire. School of Education staff led a series of workshops in Hamilton in spring 2013. These evening sessions explored a range of themes and pedagogical approaches that drew upon the Notebook while seeking to acknowledge the importance of context and existing support structures. Early indications are that this approach has proved valuable to participants although they have emphasized the ongoing complexity of such work, the need for additional support, notably in relation to EAL, and the need for any observational tool derived from the original Notebook to be a user-friendly, practical and ethical means of gathering pupil information.

At the University of Glasgow we are currently reviewing more systematically the impact of the POI initiative on the group of teachers involved, as well as drawing out possible learning and action points for the wider policy and practice community in Scotland. If you want to find out more about this initiative and to receive further updates, please contact Alan Britton at: or you can visit the POI Project website.

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This entry was posted on June 17, 2013 by in Blogs and tagged , , , .
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