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Integrating Students from Migrant Backgrounds into Schools in Europe

In most European education systems, migrant students tend to underperform and express a lower sense of well-being compared to their native-born peers. Migrant students face particular challenges, like having to learn a new language or dealing with the stress or trauma of going to a new country, leading to worse scholastic outcomes. Lower outcomes mean, in turn, that they have less of a chance to reach their full potential.

So what are European school systems doing to promote the achievement and well-being of migrant students? A recent report by Eurydice—an education policy network of the European Commission—maps the policies and measures of 42 European education systems in the areas of governance; access to education; language, learning, and psycho-social support; and teachers and school heads. It then takes a closer look at the integration policies and measures in ten selected education systems. The report finds, inter alia:

Access to education

  • In most European education systems, children with migrant backgrounds have the same rights and obligations to participate in education as their native peers. But this is not always the case, especially for children who are irregular migrants.
  • In 13 education systems, young migrants who are over the compulsory school age but have not completed compulsory education do not have the same rights to educational access as their native peers.
  • Newly arrived students are usually placed in preparatory courses if they do not have the language skills to follow mainstream classes. To ensure that such courses do not hinder integration, many education systems limit the time spent in preparatory courses or require that such courses teach curriculum subjects beyond language.

Language and psycho-social support

  • Funding is often allocated based on the number of migrant students who need language support.
  • Very rarely do migrant students have the right to study their home language at school.
  • Policies and measures tend to focus on academic rather than social and emotional needs. However, many systems make psycho-social support available to all students.

Teachers and school heads

  • Most education systems include competences related to teaching in multicultural classrooms in their teacher competence frameworks and/or promote these skills through activities organised by top-level authorities.
  • Intercultural mediators and teaching assistants are under-deployed resources.
  • School heads often do not receive training from top-level authorities to ensure successful integration of migrant students.

Policy approaches

  • Few education systems have top-level strategies for migrant student integration, but most systems do have policies or measures in specific areas relevant for integration.
  • Only two of the ten selected education systems had policies that emphasised both promoting diversity and taking a ‘whole-child’ approach.

Source: European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice