23 SES 11 D, Refugee Education
There are more child refugees in Europe than at any point since the end of the Second World War (Save the Children 2016). This is affecting both communities on the move and communities where uprooted people are resettling. A humanitarian problem on this scale demands a socially just response. For young refugees, education is a fundamental means of integrating into their new context and the act of going to school is a facilitating factor in their resumption of an everyday existence after periods of traumatic upheaval.
This paper’s focus is a case study of how schools work with newly arrived children in England (historically both focus and locus for immigrants) and Sweden (to whom large numbers of immigrants are a new phenomenon). Understanding the positioning of the newly arrived within national educational policy discourses illuminates the values underpinning political decision making in these two differing European contexts (Ball 1998, 124). Policies and practices in these contexts which lead to, or obstruct, new arrivals living an everyday life and participating in education are examined through the two theoretical concepts: ‘participatory parity’ (Fraser 2003) and ‘resumption of an ordinary life’ (Kohli 2014) as we explore each state’s policy response.
The term ‘participatory parity’ encompasses Fraser’s understanding of social justice which is predicated on socio-economic (distribution), cultural (recognition) and political (representation) dimensions (2003). For our focus, the distribution of resource is the extent to which new arrivals are able to access education both in policy terms and in practice. Within this, there needs to be recognition of the needs of different groups of refugees, and importantly of different individuals within these groups, and for these to be culturally responsive without stigmatising or othering the child from the rest of society. To avoid misrecognition, policies and processes need to ensure that refugee children can access and engage in educational experiences that allow them to participate on a par with others. Considering these concepts together can help to develop a socially just response. Further, to avoid misrepresentation, political obstacles to participatory parity need to be avoided, such as policies and decision-making process that marginalise and exclude newly arrived children from their right to an education.
Fraser utilises the device of a frame to understand how national policies can be considered in relation to global issues. Comparing the framing of policies and practices in Sweden and England illuminates how policies are official responses to perceived problems and issues. A key problem for individuals affected by the current migration crisis is how they experience the implementation of these national responses in the everyday acts of becoming ordinary in their new context.
‘Resumption of an ordinary life’
Kohli argues that becoming a forced migrant signals the ‘death of everyday life’ (Kohli 2014, 87). Access to education is a key indicator of becoming ordinary. Rebuilding this ordinariness becomes an imperative once a resettlement destination has been reached and the geographical movement has ceased. The journey to an ‘ordinary life’ is dependent upon several intersecting contextual factors. These include the individual’s own strengths and aptitudes, previous experiences and future goals but also the ‘scaffolding provided by others’ (ibid). National policies and their enactment locally dictate the structure of this scaffolding in new ‘home’ contexts, and therefore the nature of the journey towards everyday ordinariness and routine.
Educational research on new arrivals is limited; we would go further to argue that it often has a one-sided national perspective (e.g. Nilsson Folke 2017). Our project explores how this issue is simultaneously experienced in differing European contexts. This therefore contributes to understanding how a specific global issue impacts our local/national environments.
The research draws on a project which compares the experiences of schools and young refugees in Nottingham and Helsingborg. Working with head teachers and administrators from each region over the period of an academic year, the project has facilitated heads and teachers from schools in each context meeting, visiting each other’s schools and discussing common issues relating to providing access to meaningful education for new arrivals. The project draws on policy documents, interview data and field notes of meetings and observations of teachers and young people in each context. The first stage of the project, now completed, has been to compare Swedish and English policy responses to new arrivals. A comparative analysis of documents and procedures in Sweden and England was undertaken to analyse current barriers and opportunities for young new arrivals at the level of policy as they seek to resume a sense of everyday life through schooling. We have mapped national policy regarding newly arrived/refugee children in England and Sweden, using the comparison as a mirror/clarifying perspective. Seeing English policy illuminated by Swedish policy and vice versa provided insight into characteristics of national contexts, which otherwise we would not necessarily have seen. We also conduct interviews with each head teacher at different stages of the project and draw on field notes of observations of the meetings and visits to the schools. The study also includes interviews with some of the young new arrivals as well as teaching staff and administrators in each context. At the time of writing, an analysis of the policy documentation has been conducted, following a critical discourse analysis approach (Fairclough2013). This will be reported on in the presentation. From this comparison, a picture emerges of an England without coherent policy documentation while enjoying a tradition of supporting new arrivals (Rutter 2006) and a Swedish context with plentiful policy texts and guidance, yet arising concerns about policy enactment at local level because of a lack of experience in interpreting the documentation. Utilising Fraser’s conceptual framework of ‘participatory parity’ we have considered how these differing policy texts and approaches support young refugees in their ‘resumption of an ordinary life’ (Kohli) through education.
Our initial comparisons of educational policy demonstrate that, perhaps unsurprisingly there is a great deal of policy documentation and guidance for Swedish schools to help them to provide for the new influx. In contrast, in England, despite there being a tradition of immigration, there is no recent policy focusing on refugee education which is surprising given the rise in global migration. The concepts of redistribution, recognition and representation are interlinked and all are necessary for participatory parity (Fraser 2003) which is key to these young people resuming an ordinary life alongside their new peers in their resettlement context. We will present our findings on three levels. First we will discuss the ways in which mechanisms and bureaucracies in England and Sweden function to allow equal or unequal distribution of access to appropriate education provision. Second we will consider how refugees’ cultural, linguistic and socio-ecological experiences are valued and recognised in both contexts. Finally we will consider whether new arrivals are included or excluded and given access to social communities through education or whether some are misrepresented and denied the possibilities of interacting as equals with others in their new contexts through the ordinary interactions of school life. The framing of these policies demonstrates how the different nation states in this case study view their role in the global migration crisis. Our preliminary conclusions suggest that in England there is a misframing of young refugees as they are rendered invisible (and thereby not ordinary) and voiceless in educational policy. In Sweden where there has been a national recognition of the potential benefits refugees bring to society there is a seemingly more socially just framing at least at the level of policy.
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