In 2015 some 12,000 refugees, including many young people under 18 without parents, arrived in the state of Bremen (population 670,000).  In face of this situation, the State government’s response consisted in expanding the system via a massive outsourcing of teachers working in the so-called “preparatory courses”. Accompanying important advocacy efforts, involving action-research to identify challenges facing education staff in different sectors and the organisation of a one-day conference in September 2017 in which ca. 100 education workers took part, the GEW state branch succeeded in obtaining the progressive integration of a significant part of these precarious workers.

From 2016 onwards, the number of newly arriving refugees decreased, but the challenges for the education system in Bremen continue. As many refugee children have been moving onto mainstream education after completing the preparatory German language courses, challenges related to providing continuous language support throughout the integration process have emerged. These difficulties and the evolving political context prompted the State authorities to consider moving towards a different approach to newcomers’ education in which children who completed preparatory courses would attend separate – so-called “cooperation” – classes and not integrate ordinary classrooms as happens currently. In light of the above, the union’s campaigning objectives have been evolving towards advocating for quality integrated education for refugees and migrants.

In order to reinforce the union’s response, an internal “open working group” was set up this year, to which external experts, teachers and unionists from other State branches are invited to exchange experiences. Throughout the first half of 2018, three meetings were held in February, April and May. During the first meeting, two experts from the Arbeitnehmerkammer (a non-union body which is the counterpart to the chamber of commerce meant to represent the interests of employees) and the University of Bremen were invited to present structural impediments to the recognition of overseas qualifications in Germany, applying to refugee and foreign-trained teachers. At the second meeting, a former intern of the GEW state branch came to present an Erasmus-funded project at University Vechta which provides support for staff in adult and further education provision for refugees and other migrants. During the third meeting, one colleague from Schleswig Holstein presented how refugees’ education was organised in this State, highlighting differences with the approach adopted in Bremen with a view to enriching the existing approach.

According to Nick Strauss, the treasurer of GEW Bremen State branch, “beyond skilling up participants and sharing practices at national level, these open working group meetings have allowed the State branch to consolidate a core group of local members knowledgeable and active on refugees’ education issues”.