Integration strategies that reflect diversity within schools can help migrant children to settle in the UK, new research suggests.
Recommendations about the integration of migrant children into schools in the UK, as well as nine other European countries, have been published in a policy brief which forms part of the Horizon 2020 funded project ‘Migrant Children in a transforming Europe (MiCREATE)’.
Through participatory research of surveys, art-based interviews, and focus groups of more than 500 children and educational staff, teachers, and parents across 12 schools in Manchester, researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University found that as diversity increases in the UK, schools need to provide an inclusive education that fosters cultural diversity and ensures equal outcomes for all.
The findings are particularly significant in light of the number of refugees fleeing Ukraine and Afghanistan to the UK in recent months, adding to the greater diversity in school populations.
The pandemic also had an adverse effect on migrant pupils both in terms of learning as well as their overall wellbeing.
This has created new challenges for schools where migrant children were placed who have had to rethink their integration practices and strategies.
Dr Shoba Arun, Reader in Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University and UK lead on the MiCreate project, said: “Migrant integration will always be a complex issue and a great challenge in our society. The UK has had a long history of diverse waves of migration, and as we continue to see an influx of new arrivals, such movements of large numbers of people and families will immensely affect children and their educational futures.
“Our MICREATE project aims to encourage the integration of diverse groups of migrant children in the UK, as a host society, through a child-centered approach embedded in our research, integration activities and policy. Through this research, we have been able to understand issues of wellbeing of migrant children in our schools as well as improving knowledge about peer dynamics and improving the capacity of schools, teachers, and educational staff to manage such cultural diversity.
“Working with pupils, we have co-produced tools to help schools and educational providers act as strong footholds enabled through participation and co-production (digital tools) and developing child-centered policy recommendations on migrant child integration for different decision-makers.”
While many schools used a range of methods to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of their student body, research revealed varying experiences of educational inclusion among the diverse groups of migrant pupils which includes new arrivals, long-term migrants, and local children with migrant backgrounds.
Researchers found that where integration strategies had been implemented in schools, this had helped to foster a sense of belonging among migrant pupils and engaged them in the curriculum.
This includes initiatives ranging from peer buddy schemes, to the organisation of workshops and talks promoting social inclusion and belonging, and the implementation of art-based practices and activities on language and dedicated days to celebrate religious and cultural events of ethnic minorities.
However, the research also recommended national and local reforms that would encourage integration for migrant pupils, including that diversity in the classroom forming a greater part of teacher training, and more investment in English as an Additional Language (EAL) departments within schools. At a local level, councils should fund language workshops for migrant parents, while students provided with a wider range of language classes.
Where there have been systematic integration strategies implemented in schools, there has also been a good sense of belonging among migrant pupils.
Therefore, the need to implement a systematic integration strategy in schools is essential not only for welcoming the different types of migrant pupils but to better support them through the curriculum.
Even though language can be seen as a barrier, findings revealed that it can be seen as an asset to many children from migrant backgrounds with EAL who are keen to develop their language ability to foster their heritage and multilingualism.
Findings revealed the importance for parental involvement within the school environment and many schools increased parental engagement through informal and formal activities such as Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and coffee mornings.
Researchers plan to continue to engage with schools and policy holders to discuss how best to apply to learning from these findings and recommendations.
The policy brief will also help to inform future work with Afghan and Ukrainian families over the coming months.