Educational support models – the current policy responses in Europe

Executive Summary abstract

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“The study identified four types of educational support policies that facilitate the integration of newly arrived migrant children in their education systems: linguistic support, academic support, outreach and cooperation and intercultural education. The mix of these policies along with the general characteristics of education systems provides the basis for distinct educational support models. The key structural characteristics of education systems that affect integration of newly arrived migrant children include age of first ability tracking, level of centralisation of education system and free school choice or catchment area requirement. The analysis of the education systems and delivery of educational support measures for newly arrived migrant children helped to identify five distinct types of educational support systems:

  • Comprehensive support model (examples: Denmark, Sweden)

Comprehensiveness of the support implies that all four types of support are well developed and education systems are in other ways inclusive. Countries representing this model provide continuous support to development of linguistic skills, teaching support and assistance in transferring students to higher levels of education. Decentralised education and high school autonomy goes together with strong focus on outreach to parents and local community. Intercultural learning is mainstreamed into education. Countries pay a lot of attention to creating a positive school environment through trained teaching staff and various intercultural initiatives.

  • Non-systematic support model (examples: Italy, Cyprus, Greece)

The model is characterised by randomness of the support provided. Countries that are attributed to this group have no clearly articulated policy on the national level to support the integration of newly arrived migrant children or such policy exists, but is not effectively resourced and implemented. The support provided at regional, local and/or school level is highly fragmented as teachers, parents and local communities are largely left to their own devices.

  • Compensatory support model (examples: Belgium, Austria)

The model includes all types of support policies with only academic support being a rather weak aspect that is further undermined by early ability tracking and streaming systems. Countries provide ongoing teaching of the host language as a second language and the mother tongue to the largest groups of migrants (e.g. Austria in regular schools). Parents of newly arrived migrant children are encouraged to cooperate with schools through the provision of resource persons and interpretation services. The support provided is essentially compensatory – aiming to correct the ‘differences’ between immigrant and native students, rather than tackling the initial disadvantage.

  • Integration model (example: Ireland)

Linguistic support is not a central focus of this model as it stops after several introductory years and no mother tongue teaching or teaching English as a second language is offered continuously throughout the schooling process. The systems for welcoming newly arrived migrant children, arrangements for assessment of prior schooling and support programs for underachieving students are well developed. Particular strengths of this model are well developed outreach and cooperation and intercultural education policies. Liaison between school, parents and local community is systematic, while intercultural learning is well integrated into the curricula and promoted in school daily life.

  • Centralised entry support model (examples: France, Luxembourg).

The focus of the model is on the centralised reception of migrant children and the provision of academic support as the main driver of educational inclusion. Both countries provide a centralised reception desk, assessment of prior schooling and welcoming arrangements for newly arrived migrant children. Targeted support programmes for underachieving students are well developed. Linguistic support and outreach to migrant parents/communities are also rather well developed.

Essential inclusion factors

Analysis revealed that the effectiveness of targeted educational support measures is undermined by less inclusive education environments. The best results can be expected when the inclusion of newly arrived migrant children is addressed through an integrated approach: a combination of regulatory and managerial reforms aimed to make education system more inclusive accompanied with well-financed targeted measures to provide newly arrived migrant children with comprehensive support to eliminate their educational disadvantage.

It is essential to avoid school segregation as it impedes successful integration of newly arrived migrant children into formal education. There is evidence to support that catchment area requirement decreases school segregation and makes school education more inclusive. When catchment area requirements are not possible to implement, other measures should be provided to ensure that newly arrived migrant children have a chance to learn together with their native peers. This can include provision of immigrant parents with help and information on school selection, improving the quality of provision in ‘migrant’ schools or dispersal policies aimed at equal distribution of migrant students among schools in the region. The latter are particularly helpful when mitigating the effects of already existing residential segregation of immigrants.

Ensuring equal opportunities is vital for newly arrived migrant childrens’ integration into formal education. Initial language barriers and sometimes the lack of prior schooling prevent newly arrived migrant children from succeeding at school to the extent their native peers do. Systems that practice early tracking and streaming of students according to their abilities tend to widen the performance gap between migrant and native pupils, depriving newly arrived migrant children of access to the more prestigious academic tracks. If tracking at a later stage is not possible in the education system, then provisions should be made to allow for the possibility of catching up and changing tracks when skills improve.

Schools should be given a reasonable level of autonomy, so that they can better adapt to and cater for the local needs. Decentralisation is an important engine for educational system adjustment. The analysis suggests that schools with a higher degree of autonomy coupled with clear policy and performance management framework at national level can more easily and effectively adapt to the needs of newly arrived migrant children and other disadvantaged groups. Centralised systems could be incrementally adapted to focus on performance of schools rather than regulating their inputs and allow schools a greater flexibility in choosing their means based on local needs and circumstances.

Performance management relies on the ability to measure the integration and achievements of newly arrived migrant children into education systems. The study has showed that basic data is still lacking in most of the analysed countries with few good practice examples. Therefore, it is essential to track the access, participation and performance of newly arrived migrant children in mainstream education in comparison to other groups of students as well as the performance of schools that accommodate newly arrived migrant children in comparison to other schools. This requires investment into monitoring and evaluation systems as well as improvements in collection of education statistics.

Inclusive framework conditions can be successfully complemented by a number of support measures; in certain cases, the negative effects of education system design can be offset by inclusive support. It is important to ensure that education support addresses the individual needs of each newly arrived migrant student. Therefore, an ideal education system should offer a combination of all types of education support: linguistic, academic support, parental and community involvement and intercultural education. The key elements of each type are provided below. Countries should be careful to tailor policy choices to local circumstances.


A recommended policy mix for the integration of newly arrived migrant children into education


Linguistic support:

  • Initial language support and adequate system of assessment of language competences;
  • Continuous host language support within or after regular class;
  • Training of teachers in instructing the host language as a second language;
  • Valuing and provision of mother tongue instruction.

Academic support:

  • Ensuring a well-developed reception of migrant students and initial assessment of migrants’ education background;
  • Placing newly arrived migrant children into an appropriate class based on the assessment of their previous schooling, abilities and needs;
  • Monitoring system ensuring adequate tracking and diagnosis of student’s performance and potential;
  • Qualified teachers to work with culturally diverse students;
  • Supporting transition mechanisms between reception and mainstream classes; between different levels of education;
  • Prevention of early-school leaving and provision of re-integration programmes.
  • Parental and community involvement:
  • Encouraging parents to participate in newly arrived migrant children education process, through homeschool tutors and partnerships;
  • Encouraging school cooperation in sharing good practice experience in newly arrived migrant children’s’ integration;
  • Provision of detailed information about schools’ system and opportunities for children.

Intercultural education:

  • Ensuring a positive environment at school;
  • Training of teachers for diversity;
  • Facilitating communication between native and migrant peers through bilingual coordinators and advisors.”