How can education social partners contribute to the inclusion of newcomers in Europe? The closing conference of the joint EI-ETUCE/EFEE project on social dialogue around education and migration presented the research and case studies gathered in the project. Key takeaways from the project were presented in a public hearing at the European Parliament, together with the premiere of the project’s documentary Education Without Borders.

The two-day conference (14-15 October 2019) was the conclusion of EI-ETUCE and EFEE’s joint project on promoting effective integration of migrants and refugees in education through social dialogue.

“This project doesn't just point out problems. It looks for solutions.” That is how Professor Nihad Bunar, the project’s lead researcher from the University of Stockholm, described his motivation to get involved. Indeed, the research which Professor Bunar produced over the last two years offers concrete case studies from Belgium, Serbia and Spain, shedding a light on the situation of migrants in these countries as well as the work that teachers and education trade unions are doing to foster inclusion.

Successful approaches are child-focused and supportive, integrating the children in regular classes as soon as possible while they receive additional support. In this context the first language of the migrant children is key. It should be used to underpin their learning and not seen as a barrier to the acquisition of the language of the host country. Likewise, it is important for teachers to have decent pay and working conditions, along with the tools, professional autonomy and opportunities for professional development that they need to guarantee all learners the required support. Successful inclusion is also directed towards families and requires engagement not just by schools but also by the community outside the educational sector.

Social dialogue can and must continue to play an important role in effective inclusion. For example, education social partners can ensure that policy discussions take note of the working conditions and professional needs of the teachers, trainers and school leaders who cater for migrants and refugees. These professionals are a fundamental part of any inclusion strategy, and they need excellent working conditions and professional development opportunities to be able to address the particular challenges of newly arrived learners.

EI-ETUCE and EFEE members discussed Joint Guidelines for the effective inclusion of migrants and refugees in education. This kicks off discussions with a broader set of social actors and European policymakers about a possible Quality Framework for the Effective Integration of Migrants and Refugees. Both outcomes will be proposed for adoption at the upcoming European Sectoral Social Dialogue in Education Plenary on 2 December 2019.

On the second day, the public hearing at the European Parliament 'Migration and education: Humanity and rights or fences and hostility?' was hosted by MEP Pierfrancesco Majorino and gave an opportunity to premiere the new documentary Education Without Borders, which tracks the debates and case studies throughout the project. The film was warmly received by the audience and those who were actively involved in the project over the last years. It sheds a personal light on the richness and opportunities that newly arrived children bring with them when arriving in Europe, and shows a variety of approaches that dedicated education professionals are taking to support them in their integration.

The public hearing gathered representatives of EI-ETUCE, EFEE and civil society organisations: SOLIDAR, PICUM, COFACE, the Red Cross, Eurochild. One of the main conclusions was that network building all over Europe is needed to ensure the integration of migrants into education, starting from a child-focused and rights-based approach to inclusion.

As EI-ETUCE President Christine Blower stressed, “all children have the right to education, no matter their migration status. If more refugees arrive in Europe, we need a bigger table not higher walls.” This successful joint project shows that education social partners are committed to this vision and have a lot to offer in its implementation.

Read the full report Promoting Effective Integration of Refugees and Migrants in Education.

Watch the documentary Education Without Borders.

More information on EI-ETUCE's website.

More than 50% of the 5.3 million asylum seekers who arrived in OECD countries between 2014 and 2017 were 18-34 years old. The OECD’s new report Unlocking the potential of Migrants uses practical examples to highlight the advantages of vocational education and training (VET) for the inclusion of young migrants in European society.

The analysis, published on 26 September 2019, draws on international policies and practices. It offers detailed examples from Germany, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland, but also explores data from other countries. The report provides guidelines for governments and other stakeholders on how to help young humanitarian migrants by placing them in vocational education and training.

The report sets out the benefits of VET: apprenticeships and work-based learning seem to be one of the most effective ways to integrate young migrants and refugees into society and the labour market. The report also investigates the challenges that migrants face in accessing upper-secondary level VET and what support they need.

The data show that the share of young migrants entering upper-secondary VET programmes has been rising in recent years. There were increases of 6% in Germany (2009-17), 5% in Sweden (2011-17), and 3% in Switzerland (2012-17). However, in Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden a lower percentage of young migrants attend upper-secondary VET than native students and they are less successful in completing their VET. In Finland and Germany young migrants are 8% less likely to finish their VET than their native school mates, while in Norway and Sweden the gap is 16-18% . The reasons are various. For example, they might begin the course with weaker skills, might lack relevant social networks, and might face discrimination. There is sometimes a shortage of apprenticeship placements that they can take.

The OECD report suggests that countries could help young migrants and refugees by offering flexible VET provision, such as modular, shorter or longer programmes. Governments also need to give schools and companies clear information about the legal status of humanitarian migrant students and apprentices. Some countries are promoting intermediary bodies to build contacts between young migrants and employers. Such efforts can challenge discriminatory assumptions from employers, while giving migrants a chance to build social capital and a better understanding of employer expectations.

You can read the full OECD report “Unlocking the potential of migrants” here.


by Yasemin Can-Nizamoğlu

In Germany, the debate about the whys and wherefores of (school based) heritage language instruction (HLI or in German »Herkunftssprachlicher Unterricht«) is not over. In some German states heritage languages are taught via teachers directly employed by or sent by the consulates of the foreign countries (the so called consulate method) or alternatively via a public provision – or a mix of both. Either way, HLI remains marginal within the German education system. This piece will address why it is so marginal and what the arguments are for its support.

Heritage language instruction finds itself within a dilemma - supporters on the one side use the 'Interdependence' hypothesis of Jim Cummins (see Cummins, 2000)[1] as the basis for an institutional embedding of HLI for students with a mother tongue which is different to the country's / state's official language. The 'Interdependence' hypothesis argues that instruction in one language will, if certain conditions are fulfilled, effect learning in the other language. Critics of this approach who support a monolingual school argue that the time that needs to be invested in learning the heritage language should be invested in learning the official host country language. There are few empirical studies to support the 'Interdependence' hypothesis (see Wenk et al, 2016)[2].

Linguistic competencies connect in different ways. But the question of how they connect is unclear. It is however clear, that attending HLI doesn't have negative effects on learning German and that “it leads with certainty to a further development of the family language, which is additional language qualification” (Reich 2014, pg. 7)[3] There are strong arguments that the positive effects (on learning German) only occur when particular conditions are fulfilled – amongst these being: agreeing on teaching methods and cooperation between staff, quality standards, and the recognition of the HLI as a subject.

Regardless of the desirability of more research, heritage languages should be recognised as a valuable resource. Students with mother tongues other than German, bring “specific language and cultural resources with them, which should be recognised as a treasure not just for themselves, but for the whole community.”(Bremer / Mehlhorn 2018, pg. 11)[4].

Challenges and Problems in Practice – an example:

The challenges and problems shown up in a study conducted in Munich in 2013, are exemplary. The interview with a HLI teacher indicated that the conditions for the HLI were very unhelpful.

The instruction was on Friday afternoon which led to poor attendance. As the attendance was voluntary, the students preferred to enjoy their free time – particularly in the summer. The HLI offer was a double lesson (i.e. 90 minutes) in the school once a week. There was a wide range of ages in the group according to the teacher interviewed. One group consisted of students from grades 4 to 7, who also had a range of language competencies. Some of them had started the HLI that year – others had participated for a number of years.

The heterogeneity of the teaching group in terms of age as well as linguistic competency was a significant challenge for the teacher. The teacher worked completely independently in terms of the curriculum planning and selection of teaching materials. This was based in the difficulties of the textbooks used in the HLI. The planned content of the curriculum could not, nowadays, be fully covered within a school year. This is partially because the students do not attend regularly but also because the teacher ensures a variety of activities within the lessons. Without this variety, the students wouldn't attend the lessons at all.

In Bremen we can observe the same problems 5 years after the Munich study. In the context of the seminar “Der schulische Herkunftssprachenunterricht” (Heritage Language Instruction at School) (SoSe 18, Universität Bremen) which I offered, students observed HLI in schools to get an idea of how it was delivered and spoke with teachers on the courses. There were similarly unhelpful conditions – the example discussed above was not an exception, but rather a systematic reflection of general problems for HLI. These conditions make participation for the school students not particularly attractive. The initial question in this piece – why has HLI got such a marginalised position – is based in the fact that we are only on the way towards acceptance of multilingualism. This is shown by current media coverage for example the Bild (a German national tabloid) had an article with the headline: “only one of (these) 103 children speak German at home.” The supposition that only German is the language that everyone speaks at home is not really thought through. More than a third of families in Germany are multilingual. From that, growing up with an additional language to German is hardly an exception but rather normality - and this will grow in significance. The first important step would be the recognition and acceptance of heritage languages and multilingualism.

Recommendations ...

Heritage language instruction needs to be reformed - that's certain. Support in terms of educational policy and research is necessary to achieve this. Participation for students should be made part of an attractive offer. For example, student motivation could be enhanced by taking away the 'informal group' nature of the lessons, instead valuing their participation by awarding grades like in other subjects. This would also require a curriculum with set standards. In addition, in-service training for teaching staff with regards to linguistic diversity within the teaching groups is important. The HLI should be carried out in close cooperation with the teaching of German. Simultaneously the institutional connections between support in the student's first and second languages should be strengthened. (Woerfel 2013)[5]. The interaction between families, schools and research is equally important in achieving this as the recognising and using a natural multilingualism (ebd.).

... and Perspectives:

The struggle against the marginalisation of HLI has passed an important milestone with the establishment of a network for "Herkunftssprachlicher Unterricht"[6]. This network is a German wide organisation which plans to broaden research particularly in terms of the role and function of HLI. There are also positive moves afoot in some states. In the Saarland, for example, the consulate model will be taken into the state government sector and extended from the current Italian and Turkish, to include Arabic and Russian. Nord-Rhein-Westfalen has added two new languages to make a total of 22 - including Aramaic and Zazaki. We can hope that these positive developments continue and that heritage languages will be supported.

At the time of writing, Yasemin Can-Nizamoğlu was an academic staff member of the German as a Second and Foreign Language Unit, Area 10, Department of Language and Literature - Universität Bremen. Ms. Can-Nizamoğlu is now employed at Cologne University (Unversität zu Köln).


[1] Cummins, J. (2000): Language, power and pedagogy. Bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

[2] Wenk, A./Marx, N./Steinhoff, T./Rüßmann, L. (2016): Interlinguale Förderung von Schreibfähigkeiten bilingualer Schülerinnen und Schüler. Zeitschrift für Fremdsprachenforschung 27 (2), 151-179.

[3] Reich, H. (2014): Über die Zukunft des herkunftssprachlichen Unterrichts. Überarbeitete Fassung eines Vortrags bei der GEW Rheinland-Pfalz in Mainz am 31.01.2012. content/prodaz/reich_hsu_prodaz.pdf [15.11.2018].

[4] Brehmer, B./Mehlhorn, G. (2018): Herkunftssprachen. Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto.

[5] Woerfel, T. (2013): Interaktionen im multilingualen Spracherwerb- Nachteil Bayern? Vortrag, 3. Diskussionsforum Linguistik in Bayern »Interaktionen«, 25./26.02.2013 Universität Bamberg.


Citizens UK, a national community organising group, recently released a report investigating how the hostile environment policy is impacting upon the everyday lives of schools, families and children without citizenship living in the UK.

The hostile environment immigration policy was first introduced by Home Secretary Theresa May in 2012, aiming to make lives of people without the “right documentation” unbearable until they decided to leave the UK. This was done by fining landlords renting out their properties out to undocumented migrants, asking medical personnel to report migrants without documents to the Home Office and threatening employers who hired migrants without documents with fines. The hostile environment policy, however, does not just impact undocumented migrants living in the UK, but all migrants, as well as many individuals and families, particularly those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, who have lived in the UK for their entire lives.

Since January 2019, undergraduate students from the UCL Institute of Education have been working with Citizens UK, along with staff and student in six primary and secondary schools and sixth form colleges across London to conduct an action research project on the impact of the hostile environment on these schools, their students, parents and staff. Action research combines education (developing workshops to learn together about the hostile environment policy), research (listening to the experiences and opinions of children, teachers and parents), and action (collectively developing ideas to address the harmful impact of the hostile environment policy).

As highlighted in this preliminary report, the research finds that the hostile environment is having a significant and negative impact in schools, not just for children and families without citizenship, but for teachers and school leadership teams as well. This policy undermines the right of all children to an equal, high quality education in schools across the UK.

Download the action research preliminary report “Forgotten People. How the hostile environment impacts schools and children’s wellbeing”.

Many factors feed into the design of a truly inclusive education system. Some factors shape the way education systems are set up, such as laws and policies or governance and finance mechanisms. Others operate inside the school walls, in the shape of curricula and learning materials, but also teachers, school leaders and education support personnel. The right community spirit and parental engagement are vital for enabling an inclusive education system to function correctly.

The 2020 GEM Report on inclusion and education will cover each of these factors in turn, identifying factors contributing to full inclusion, or exclusion, of learners, and helping balance the books for all. But the central role of teachers for accommodating students of all abilities and backgrounds is clear – and had also emerged in the context of our 2019 report, Building Bridges, not Walls, which focused on migration and displacement.

We learnt in our research last year that socio-economic, ethnic, cultural diversity is on the rise along with the diversity of needs of potential learners.  The 2018 OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) has recently  showed us that the percentage of teachers teaching in classes with more than 10% of students whose first language is different from the language of instruction ranged from 2% in Japan and Hungary to 50% in the United Arab Emirates, 58% in Singapore and 62% in South Africa. 

But not many teachers are trained to deal with such diversity. In OECD countries, on average, a little more than one-third of teachers (35%) reported that their formal teacher education or training covered teaching in multicultural and multilingual settings.  This varies from over 70% of more teachers receiving such training in the United States, Singapore and New Zealand for example to less than 25% receiving such training in France, Slovenia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Even when they are trained, only just over one-fourth felt well or very well prepared to teach in such settings.

A review of initial and continuing teacher education for diversity content across 49 countries found that just over 30% of the programmes were government-supervised, offered or funded. The other programmes were provided by universities, teachers’ unions, and non-government and private organizations. About 63% of the government programmes, but hardly any of the others, were mandatory. Moreover, programmes emphasized general knowledge over practical pedagogy. Only one out of five programmes prepared teachers to anticipate and resolve intercultural conflicts or be familiar with psychological treatment and referral options for students in need, which our recent paper showed was so urgently needed by many.  

If teachers do not have training, they will not have the skills needed to re-orientate their pedagogy from teacher-centred to student-centred approaches. This requires programmes to be flexible; the intensity, content and timetables should suit individual needs and contexts. For example, among the skills identified as necessary for teachers of migrants is the ability to use materials that capture the daily challenges migrants encounter and the ability to teach oral language skills to low-literate adults. Teachers also need to be aware of how first-language competence affects literacy development in a second language. 

Alongside the skills that teachers may or may not have, the tone of teaching is almost as important. This is why school leaders’ and teachers’ motivation for and commitment to inclusive education are essential and should not be taken for granted, even in systems where teacher training for inclusion exists. There is no way that inclusionin education can be realized without teachers with inclusive attitudes, values and practices; without teachers committed to be the fuel for change and the advocates for a paradigm shift.

Ensuring the most vulnerable attend and complete school is only the first step towards inclusion. The main challenge in fully including them is to offer an education of high quality that ensures the prevention of prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination. However, a shift to an inclusive education system has considerable implications. It requires a strategy that covers a large range of interventions from curricula and pedagogic approaches to textbooks and, especially, teacher preparation and support. We look forward to exploring this in more depth over the course of the coming year in the development of the 2020 GEM Report, and count on teachers and their representative organisations’ support to relay its messages at its launch in March next year.


Anna Cristina D'Addio is a Senior Policy Analyst in the GEM Report team at UNESCO since March 2017. Prior to this position, Anna worked at the OECD on a comprehensive list of issues ranging from financial education and literacy, inequality, poverty, the intergenerational transmission of education, ageing, social protection, the life course approach to social policy. Before joining the OECD Anna was a research professor in micro-econometrics applied to labour market/education issues.