Open School Doors

Funded by Erasmus+, this eye-opening research project - which sees five institutions across the EU work together - looks at reducing disparities in learning outcomes for children from refugee, asylum seeker, and newly arrived migration contexts.

open school doors project large


Research background

Open School Doors was a two-year Erasmus+ funded project which spans five EU contexts and ran from 2017 to 2019. The UK team from Birmingham City University comprised five researchers from the School of Education and Social Work, and Birmingham School of Media. The BCU team worked with partners, including:

  • University of Dresden
  • Computer Technology Institute, Patras & Ellinogermaniki Agogi, Athens
  • Bildung Online, Austria
  • International Parents’ Association

The project set out to develop relationships, particularly online communication, between schools and newly arrived families. In the current political climate across the UK and EU countries, this was a particularly pertinent time for this work due to the rise in Far Right organisations and general hostility towards children and parents from forced migration contexts. 

Research aims

The overall aim of the Open School Doors project was to reduce disparities in learning outcomes for children from refugee, asylum seeker and newly arrived migration contexts. The project particularly sought to inspire and motivate teachers and school leaders to create constructive and sustainable relationships and collaboration with parents from English as an Additional Language (EAL) backgrounds and diverse migration contexts.

How was the research carried out?

The data collection took part in two main stages. At the initial stage, the UK-based data collection consisted of six focus groups with school staff in five primary schools and one secondary school in Birmingham, as well as one focus group with migrant parents in one of the primary schools.  All of the schools had the status of ‘Schools of Sanctuary’ (a strand of the City of Sanctuary movement). The focus groups included a total of 14 school practitioners, including:

  • Two headteachers;
  • Four assistant headteachers, who were also Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinators and Inclusion Coordinators;
  • Five teachers;
  • Two English as an Additional Language (EAL) mentors;
  • One school administrative staff member.

The additional focus group with migrant parents took place in March 2018 and included three migrant mothers from Somalia, Pakistan and India. Two of the mothers were asylum seekers and one a refugee. Their children had been at the school for three years or less.

The results from the initial data collection stage from the UK and EU partners were then used to inform the creation of the online teacher training framework, which was developed by the BCU team. The framework launches an innovative participatory-action based approach using online tools to address diverse aspects of schools’ communication with newly arrived parents in a sensitive, positive and goal-oriented way, including: features of cultural diversity; teacher reflections on their own positionality in the communication process including challenging their own racialised positions, as well as pre-conceptions and stereotypes; exploring digital communication / social networking tools to engage with migrant parents; and devising action-plans to stimulate parents’ motivation based on local school contexts. The framework was then piloted with the original schools, as well as four additional schools and teacher trainees within the University.

At the final stage of the data collection, all participating schools in the UK and EU were supported to choose an action or actions from the framework to develop within their school context in working with newly-arrived families. In the UK, the BCU team then held a final focus group to gather feedback from UK schools and to support them in developing their actions on a long-term, permanent basis.




Our initial research findings indicated what we referred to as a ‘crisis in teacher education’, with teachers coming to the limits of their expertise in teaching children with English as an Additional Language (EAL) and in their communication with EAL parents, many of whom are unfamiliar with the principles of the UK education system and have had little experience themselves of formal education.

Teachers reported feeling unequipped to deal with trauma and high levels of transiency while they continued to face pressures of national assessment, as well as lack of external funding and support. Consequently, the UK team devised 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 to share across all of the schools.

At the final stages of the project, the BCU team is now working towards embedding the training framework into teacher training courses across the University (at undergraduate and postgraduate levels). Through the project, the BCU team have also been collaborating with Halesowen College, who have devised a cultural calendar which they are using to underpin all curriculum planning across the college. BCU has also hosted some of Halesowen College’s Erasmus students for work placements. As BCU is now becoming a University of Sanctuary, we will be working with Halesowen College (which is a College of Sanctuary) further to share ideas and inspiring practice for newly arrived refugee and asylum seeker young people.

FInd out more by visiting the project page.