By Manuel Crespo Nievas, José Miguel Megías Leyva and Begoña López Cuesta.

Commitment to ensuring the right to education for refugee children, forcibly displaced persons, stateless persons, those seeking international protection and migrants necessitates an inclusive school system. This concerns not only teaching and didactic matters, to research and innovation in education, but also the realm of moral values and social justice.  

This poses a direct challenge for trade unions that seek to drive educational reforms both within educational centres and their surrounding framework, supporting teachers through discovering individually tailored, innovative solutions to address a diverse range of students, despite lower salaries, unpaid overtime and lack of available specialised training, among other issues.

Proyecto Roma (Project Rome) is not merely an educational model for public schools, but also a moral commitment to said schools and all their students, who day by day continue to lose their dignity and whose needs fail to be addressed, and we are not referring to the implementation of Special Needs for Educational Support under Spanish educational regulations established with a view to accommodating diversity in the student body. No, we do not meet students’ needs by labelling them on the basis of their specific needs and challenges, but rather by helping them to learn and develop their own individual strengths, enabling each student in a class group to overcome their individual struggles.

This is the story of Abel[1], together with his classmates and his family, as well as his journey, a journey in which we, as teachers, also take part. His story is told through the lens of the traditional paradigm based on diagnoses aimed at assigning labels to students that result in their being paid inadequate attention outside the classroom; far from helping them to overcome their difficulties, it instead only magnifies them and draws attention to them socially, further excluding and isolating Abel from his peers.

Abel first arrived at our school, a small school in the rural areas of Granada, when he was only 4 years old. Having come from a dysfunctional family, he arrived having already experienced a very difficult life at such a young age.

After completing nursery, albeit not without difficulties, he progressed to primary school, where he joined a class of 14 other students.

Upon completing the second year of primary school, his teacher suggested that five students repeat the year. Abel, of course, was one of the five chosen.

Broadly speaking, the group consisted of: two girls from immigrant families with limited knowledge of Spanish, a girl with high intellectual capacity, Abel, diagnosed with special educational support needs due to severe childhood tonic dysphemia and intellectual disability, and a wide array of learning difficulties among the rest of the students, in addition to an unsustainable classroom environment due to constant lack of respect, in which even families themselves were contributing to the issues faced by many of the children.

As the management team, we had already been observing and analysing the challenges faced by a large number of the students in our school for some time. In Abel’s case, these challenges were not helped by the diversity awareness measures implemented in an effort to help students, including removing him from the classroom for therapeutic pedagogy and sessions with a hearing and language specialist. Rather than improving his level of learning or development, these measures only served to further isolate Abel from his peer group.

It was clear to us that we could not address diversity awareness through uniformity, but we lacked a model that enabled us to develop an adequate strategy that would ensure a successful, high-quality education for all of the boys and girls in our care.

Proyecto Roma addressed the issues that we raised: creating communities of co-existence and learning shared by all members of the educational community, valuing the individual differences of each person as part of the wealth of said community, achieving all this through co-operation and collaboration.
We understand diversity as something that can enrich both teaching and learning processes, in which every student, regardless of refugee status, regardless of their individual differences, can not only learn, but also help others to learn alongside them.

A solid theoretical and epistemological framework: Luria, Vigotsky, Freire, Bruner, Dewey, Habermas, Maturana... It is about knowing why we do what we do, and given the experiences of teachers who had been working with this model for several years already, we were certain that this was the solution our school needed.
As a management team, we are committed to the transformation and improvement of our school, including working directly with Abel’s group. This meant becoming tutor for this group in their third year without forcing any of the five chosen students to repeat the previous year, which entailed countless lost hours of managerial work, a salary supplement for changing from secondary to primary school... and many hours of study and sleepless nights.

During the first year working under the Proyecto Roma model, the Assembly was the strategy that enabled us to accomplish some very solid prior goals; it enabled us to get to know each other, both on an individual level and as a group, to build an environment of trust in which everyone was able to express themselves however they wanted, as differences came to be seen as an asset, something that enriched us as a group. We no longer lost Abel’s presence when he left the classroom for extra support; instead, several hours a week, the entire group benefited from the presence of two teachers in the classroom, which enabled every student to learn everything, provided we all helped each other.

We also learnt that environment is the brain (Luria, 1995) and as a result, we organised our classroom (the thinking zone, the communication zone, the affectivity zone, and the independent zone), and the logical thinking process of said organisation, which we would later use to plan our projects. We established the classroom rules, developed and agreed upon by everyone, removed from the minor misunderstandings and difficulties that often arose in our day to day work, instead making the classroom into a democratic space in which values thrive, as these are not taught; rather, they are either lived or rejected (Maturana, 1994)[2]. 

We shifted from the concept of “I” to “we”, making ourselves responsible not only for our own learning, but also for the learning of our classmates, making an effort to understand each individual’s personal challenges and coming up with solutions to overcome them. Abel took on the role of group spokesperson on more than one occasion, as everyone understood that this was the best way of helping overcome his speech impediment, and they did not fear that he might jeopardise the group’s work should he not present well; instead, the most important thing was the great benefit it provided for Abel.

The group’s improvement was remarkable, both in learning and in learning to get along with each other. These successes were even more marked in cases like Abel, who had previously been cast as an outsider. Now, however, he was considered an equal by the rest of the class, both respectful of and receiving respect in turn from his classmates. By following the classroom rules (it was difficult for him to remain seated for more than five minutes), we began to observe in him that personal and social growth that had previously eluded us.

With the trust and support of his classmates, Abel was chosen as the spokesperson for his class to present for the entire school during our World Book Day celebration. Abel’s speech had improved so greatly that he succeeded in stunning the entire audience, as everyone present had anticipated an disaster as inevitable.

His progress in the group continued to improve little by little until, by the end of primary school, he had practically reached the level of his peers. Above all, he had succeeded in truly becoming part of the group, with all of the students working together and respecting everyone around them.

The importance of this case is highlighted not only by Abel’s progress on an individual level, which has been more than remarkable, but also by the improvement of the environment in which before he had always struggled to merely “survive” every day. 

After implementing these changes to our methodology, the classroom became a richer environment for all students, a space filled with constant Learning.

Proyecto Roma, as a transformative, enriching element for educational environments, has helped us to understand that respecting each individual for their differences enables them to learn, and in turn we can all learn from them. It would be extraordinary if girls and boys, adolescents and children, refugees, forcibly displaced persons, stateless persons, migrants or indigenous peoples, alone or together, rather than simply have the theoretical right to a good education were able to truly live experience it like Abel.


[1] Abel is a real boy whose name has been changed for privacy purposes.

[2] For more detailed information about this model, see Fundamentos y prácticas inclusivas en el Proyecto Roma (López Melero, M. Madrid: Morata, 2018).


BRUNER, J. (1997). La educación, puerta de la cultura. Madrid. Visor.
DEWEY, J. (1971). Democracia y Educación. Buenos Aires. Losada
HABERMAS, J. (1987). Teoría de la Acción Comunicativa I. Madrid. Taurus
LÓPEZ MELERO, M. (2018): Fundamentos y Prácticas Inclusivas en el Proyecto Roma. Madrid: Morata
LURIA, A. R. (1974): El cerebro en acción. Barcelona. Fontanella.
MATURANA, H. (1994). El sentido de lo humano. Santiago de Chile: Dolmen
VYGOTSKY, L. S. (1979): El desarrollo de los procesos psicológicos superiores. Barcelona: Crítica.

The authors:

Manuel Crespo Nievas is a teacher and psychopedagogue, director of an education centre in Andalusia and member of the Co-operative Training Action Research Group for Proyecto Roma in Andalusía. Since 2017, he has also worked on the project being developed by Education International (EI) and the Federación Estatal de Enseñanza de CCOO (FECCOO) in Spain.

José Miguel Megías Leyva is a teacher and psychopedagogue, director of an educational centre in Andalusia (CEIP Escultor Cesar Molina Megías). He manages various Educational Plans and Projects and Curricular Materials Development for primary education. Along with Dr. Miguel López Melero, for the past six years, he has been a member of the University of Málaga’s Co-operative Training Action Research Group for Proyecto Roma in Andalusia. Since 2017, he has also participated in the project currently being developed in Spain by Education International (EI) and the Federación Estatal de Enseñanza de CCOO (FECCOO).

Begoña López Cuesta is a political scientist specialising in International Relations and Public International Law. She holds a Master’s Degree in International Solidarity Action and Social Inclusion. As a researcher and promoter of various educational and training programmes, she manages the projects currently in development by Education International (EI) and the Federación Estatal de Enseñanza de CCOO (FECCOO) in Spain, in order to secure the right to education for refugee children, forcibly displaced persons, those seeking international protection, stateless persons, and migrants.

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”.


By René Böhme, University of Bremen.

Germany is a country of immigration. Immigration is reflected in the labour market. According to employment statistics of the Federal Statistical Office, the proportion of foreigners in employment subject to social insurance increased between the year 2000 and the year 2016 from 6.8 to 10 percent. 

In the past 16 years, the number of foreign employees in Germany has risen from around 1.9 million to more than 3.1 million people, while the total number of employees subject to social insurance increased by only 12.7 percent. The employment dynamics of foreigners have increased considerably since 2011. In 2016, foreigners made up about half of all growth in the number of employees in Germany. It should be noted that the qualification structure of new migrants has improved significantly (i.e. newly arriving migrants are better qualified) in the 2000s. With the growing importance of foreigners in the German (and Bremen) labour market, the issue of recognition of foreign qualifications is becoming more important. To this end, the federal and state governments have developed legal measures to facilitate the recognition of qualifications that migrants have obtained in their home countries. This makes it easier for skilled workers from abroad to use their professional qualifications in the German labour market. For example, foreign professionals have the right to have a profession-specific competent authority examine the equivalence of the qualification, taking into account their existing professional experience.

However, the chances of gaining recognition vary considerably from job to job. As the results of a study on the implementation of the Recognition Act in Bremen show, the recognition of a teaching qualification is associated with many challenges. When recognizing teachers, a fundamental distinction must be made between obtaining either an official teacher certificate or just a limited teaching qualification (e.g. one subject). Only as an officially certified teacher it is possible to be employed in a public school with a considerably better pay. Those with a limited teacher qualification can, for instance, only teach in non-formal further education institutions. 

To determine which options the migrant teachers have and what they need to do to obtain a teaching permit (i.e. official certification or limited teaching qualification) the responsible authority[1] examines the applicants’ documents and certificates. Depending on the specific training needs of each ‘applicant’, the State Examination Office determines the number of credits/courses that need to be taken at the university. These may not exceed 90 Credit Points and a teaching practice of 18 months. The decision on which measures each applicant needs to take to receive a teaching qualification, is made in collaboration with the Centre for Teacher Education of the University of Bremen. After being admitted to study at the University of Bremen, applicants can take the required courses and following completion, apply for the teaching practice at the State Institute for Schools[2]. Depending on what the needs of each applicant are, the teaching practice period can be between six, 12 or 18 months. For each year of teaching experience abroad, half a year can be deducted from the 18 months. Following the completion of the adaptation measures (i.e. university courses and teaching practice) or after passing the aptitude test, a final decision will be issued by the Senator for Science on the recognition with which the concerned persons can apply for a position as a teacher.

One challenge in recognizing teachers is that there is still (as of December 2017 and even three years after the entry into force of the law) no implementing regulation on how to interpret the law if there are differences between the Senator for Children and Education and the Senator for Science and Health. And, in the absence of an administrative instruction, both authorities may have different views as to when to grant recognition and when not. Without such an instruction, it is up to the respective clerk or clerks, as to what is to be done in individual cases, and the recognition decisions have no legal certainty, so they can be corrected at any time in the administrative court proceedings. It is therefore urgently necessary for both authorities to agree on a legal interpretation.

Furthermore, difficulties arise because teachers abroad often only learn one subject or are trained for another school system. These can then not be hired as full-fledged teachers and are thereby collectively disadvantaged. To solve this structural problem, the relevant regulations would need to be adapted so that one-subject teachers can be full-fledged teachers. For example, the state of Hamburg made that possible. Thus, a flexibilisation of the right of recognition for teachers as in Hamburg for the instruction of only one school subject is a major exception, but Berlin and Bremen are discussing this possibility due to a shortage of teachers.

Specific challenges may arise for certain subjects. For example, the recognition of teachers in ‘German as a second language’ is controversial. Although demand has increased enormously due to the high level of foreign immigration, the Conference of Ministers of Education has not yet included ‘German as a second language’ in its general school curriculum. The result is that teachers of German as a second language are not given full recognition, although the need for teachers in pre-courses, for example, for refugee or migrant children is great. However, some federal states deviate from these guidelines and recognize teachers of ‘German as a second language’, but it is not the case in Bremen yet. Many ‘German as a second language’ teachers teach in language courses, but at lower wages than fully accredited teachers. Physical education teachers cannot obtain recognition in Bremen because the university does not offer this subject anymore and thus no adaptation measures exist. Cooperation with other universities (e.g. Oldenburg) would make sense here. In both cases, it seems that a sort of federal guidance or coordination would help solve these issues (for example terminate discretionary practices across States and enhance recognition in all fields). But some authorities are worried that lowering the requirements for foreign skilled workers compared to teachers trained in Germany can lead to a deterioration of the education system.

Finally, the language challenges are great. Amongst the applicants are both people with very little knowledge of German as well as people with B1 level and more, although rarely B2 level. Even if the language level is legally not a prerequisite for recognition, the applicants must ultimately reach C1 or C2 levels to cope with the necessary adaptation measures. A course that has been in place since autumn 2017 also aims to better prepare foreign teachers for the communication demands of everyday working life. 

The high complexity of the recognition procedure requires a better staffing of the competent authority (Senator for Science) in order to be able to guarantee more extensive support and advice.


[1] In Bremen, the Senator for Science is responsible for the recognition of foreign teacher qualifications.

[2] The State Institute for Schools is an institution of the Senator for Children and Education and has the task of accompanying schools in the state of Bremen in their work and supporting their development. As a centre of excellence, the Institute provides professional, educational and psychological services and support services to all those responsible for the education of primary and secondary school students, lower secondary and secondary schools and vocational schools. The tasks of the Institute are for example the training of trainee teachers and the qualification of teachers, officials and school administrators as well as other pedagogical staff in schools.

Earlier this year a delegation from Bulgaria composed of unionists, education staff and local authorities’ representatives visited Spain to share practices with Spanish counterparts with regards to integrating newcomers and refugees in education and explore joint strategies to tackle common challenges.

The peer-to-peer visit took place from 10 to 14 April 2018 in Valencia, Mislata and Aldaia where the host union FECCOO has been implementing a number of initiatives aiming to promote the education rights of newcomers since 2016. The president of the Bulgarian union SEB, Yanka Takeva and the mayor of Lyulin, a district of Sofia, Milko Mladenov, were amongst the Bulgarian delegates, together with teachers and school principals. 

The group visited the IES La Morería in Mislata and attended one of the artistic activities implemented with students and education staff by FECCOO throughout the schoolyear, as part of its programme “School without borders” (Escuela sin fronteras). The group also had the opportunity to exchange practices and pedagogical techniques with administrative and teaching staff in Colegio Santa Creu of Mislata. 

The delegation met with all partners collaborating with FECCOO in advocacy activities in favour of refugees’ rights: cultural center Ker África, the local education authorities (Consellería d’Educació, Investigació, Cultura y Sport), the mayors of Valencia and Mislata, the Accomodation Centre for Refugees in Mislata (Centro de Acogida a Refugiados, CAR) and the local section of the Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado (CEAR). 

Finally, a closing “working” meeting was organized with local and national representatives of FECCOO and its confederation CCOO, to discuss the role of unions in promoting the rights of migrants and refugees and democratic values.

In the context of its  fight against the end of guaranteed pension benefits in the British higher education sector, the University and College Union had written to the Home Office to seek clarity on the exclusion of legal strike action from the annual 20-day limit for unpaid absence from work applying to migrant workers on Tier 2 visas.

At the time, the immigration minister Caroline Nokes simply responded that "full regard will be given to the circumstances" when making decisions about immigration status.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt and shadow chancellor John McDonnell wrote a piece, stressing that migrant workers needed absolute certainty about their rights and calling for an "unequivocal, written guarantee" that days spent taking legitimate strike action would not put migrant workers' immigration status at risk.

Last week, the current Home Secretary Sajid Javid responded positively to the union’s request, saying that he “will be making changes to the guidance and Immigration Rules for migrant workers (under the Tier 2 and 5 immigration routes) and their sponsors. The specific change will add legal strike action to the list of exceptions to the rule on absences from employment without pay for migrant workers”.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'International staff make a vital contribution to our country and we are delighted that they can now play a full role at work without fear of reprisal. All workers should be able to join their colleagues in defending their employment rights.

'Strike action is never taken lightly, but the previous lack of clarity meant migrant workers who needed to take unpaid leave for other reasons could not risk taking part for fear of risking their right to remain in the country.'

Source: “Home secretary changes rules to ensure migrant workers can take strike action”, UCU, 12 July 2017.