Open School Doors: reducing disparities in learning outcomes for children from refugee, asylum seeker, and newly arrived migration contexts

Lead academic(s)

Dr. Alex Kendall, Associate Dean Research and Business Development; Mary-Rose Puttick, Research Assistant and Doctoral Researcher; Dr Louise Wheatcroft, Senior Lecturer in Primary English; Dr Dave Harte, Associate Professor in Journalism and Media Studies

Background to engagement activity

Open School Doors was a two-year Erasmus+ funded project which spanned five EU contexts (UK, Germany, Greece, Austria and trans-European). The project sought to inspire and motivate teachers and school leaders to create constructive and sustainable relationships and collaboration with refugee and newly arrived families and to develop whole-school training resources for schools in response to a moment of mass forced migration to communities and their schools across the European Union. 

Engagement activity undertaken

Beneficiary needs were identified through literature reviews related to refugee and newly arrived families in schools and six focus groups in each partner country that highlighted barriers including: the accessibility of school information due to language and literacy barriers, and a lack of knowledge about the school and community. Participating UK schools were all members of the ‘Birmingham Schools of Sanctuary’ network which aims to create a culture of welcome for those seeking sanctuary in the UK.

Initial engagement activity in the UK involved six focus groups with school staff in five primary schools (Oasis Academy Foundry, Somerville, St Joseph’s, Glenmead and Welsh House Farm) and one secondary school (Erdington Academy) in Birmingham, as well as one focus group with newly arrived parents at Oasis Academy Foundry primary school. The six initial focus groups informed the UK literature review and two academic publications.

In the second phase, the BCU team worked with an additional three schools (Bellfield Junior school, Washwood Heath Secondary Academy, and Cardinal Wiseman Secondary) and a college (Halesowen College) through a series of workshops embedded within a participatory action research approach. The workshops informed the creation of the online teacher training framework which was subsequently piloted across the 10 Schools of Sanctuary, as well as teacher trainees within the University and Birmingham Schools of Sanctuary coordinators. The online framework was developed as a whole-school approach with themes and activities to address the identified needs. 

Knowledge transferred

Engagement with the project has enabled schools and colleges to revolutionise their practice and approach to families from refugee, asylum seeker and migrant contexts. Halesowen College has moved from acknowledging ‘Refugee Week’ each year to incorporating refugee cultural education within the curriculum, teaching and event programme across the whole college.

A set of recommendations for teachers, school leaders and a whole-school approach based on the findings from the literature review and the UK results have been shared across and beyond all of the schools involved in the project. These will help teachers and schools continue to meet the educational and support needs of families from newly arrived refugee, asylum seeker and migration contexts.

BCU continues to engage with Schools of Sanctuary to inspire practice in the network of over 350 primary and secondary schools through the teacher training framework’s inclusion in the Schools of Sanctuary UK-wide resource pack.

Evidence of impact

The BCU team is working towards embedding the training framework into teacher training courses across the University at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The project has been integrated by members of the BCU project team into their taught modules on the MA Education, BA Early Childhood Studies, Primary ITE, Teach First PGDE and Secondary PGCE.

It has supported BCU's community engagement with the City of Sanctuary and been shared at the City of Sanctuary regional meetings, extending awareness of the project and resources to schools and community organisations beyond Birmingham. 

Dates of activity

2017 - 2019

Links (Project website) (Online teacher training framework)