SIRIUS Policy Briefs: Recommendations for successful policies on migrant education


While many countries in Europe have high-quality, well-established education systems, socio-economically disadvantaged communities across the continent suffer from inequality of access and lower-quality education. Children from these groups, including children with a migrant background—those who are immigrants themselves or have immigrant parents—tend to underperform in the classroom compared with their native peers. Children from a migrant background (defined here as from countries outside the European Union) have particular educational needs that mainstream education policy does not always meet, including overcoming language barriers and discrimination. Recognizing the importance of education in allowing countries to realize their potential, the European Commission has developed a series of goals in the form of the Education and Training Strategy (ET 2020) to help Member States reduce school dropout and increase rates of tertiary education completion.

In 2011, the European Commission launched the SIRIUS Policy Network on the Education of Children and Youngsters with a Migrant Background to study and propose ways that EU countries can address the needs of disadvantaged groups while working to meet the goals outlined in ET 2020. The network facilitates the ability of experts, policymakers, and practitioners to gather and share policy ideas and practices to improve outcomes for these children.

This series of policy papers produced by experts from within the SIRIUS Network in collaboration with MPI Europe focuses on how policies at the EU level and within individual Member States can better support the education outcomes of young people with a migrant background.

Enhancing EU Education Policy: Building a Framework to Help Young People of Migrant Background Succeed


This policy brief sketches how children with a migrant background face the most urgent needs in Europe’s education systems. The overall rate for early school leaving is 33 percent for third-country nationals—more than double the overall 14.1 percent rate within the European Union, for example. Rates of youth unemployment and young people “Not in Education, Employment or Training” (NEET) are significantly higher for first- and second-generation migrants than for their native peers in most EU Member States. The brief examines a number of proposals for ways that local, national, and regional institutions can help educational systems become more community-centered, systemic, and inclusive in order to close the school achievement gap between native and immigrant students.

The thematically focused SIRIUS Newsletter on different aspects of enhancing education policy is available here.

Mentoring: What Can Support Projects Achieve That Schools Cannot?


This policy brief explores how European policymakers can design mentoring and other educational support projects to be an integral part of the educational landscape, and explains why it is important for them to do so. It highlights examples of successful mentoring experiences that focus on cultivating the hidden talents and potential of children of immigrants, countering prevailing narratives about these children possessing an educational deficit and needing to “catch up” in school. Finally, the brief summarizes current research on the benefits of mentoring and offers recommendations for program development and for policymakers at the EU level.

The thematically focused SIRIUS Newsletter on different aspects of mentoring is available here.

Developing School Capacity for Diversity


This policy brief uses the concept of professional capacity to frame SIRIUS’s recommendations regarding school quality. It identifies four key areas for improvement: language diversity, the learning environment, social psychology and acculturation, and community connections. To develop expertise in these areas, the brief outlines three strategies for policymakers:

– build professional learning communities that focus on diversity;

– build networks of expertise on diversity;

                           – and develop teacher training programs dedicated to diversity.

The thematically focused SIRIUS Newsletter on different aspects of capacity building is available here.

Language Support for Youth with a Migrant Background: Policies that Effectively Promote Inclusion


This policy brief provides key points and good practice examples on what comprehensive language support might look like. Recent  studies have identified a number of tools and approaches that can provide effective language support for migrant children, including adequate initial assessment of language skills, language induction programmes that ensure a smooth transition into mainstream classrooms, ongoing language support, training for teachers of all subjects, and valuing students’ mother tongue. Despite these suggestions, there is no blueprint for what ideal language support might look like, and many European Union (EU) Member States are facing gaps in implementation of best practices.

The thematically focused SIRIUS Newsletter on different aspects of language support is available here.

Migrant education and community inclusion

Migrant education and community inclusion

This policy brief reviews current measures to promote the integration of migrant students around Europe, specifically those policies and government-backed projects that include the family and community as an integral part of the educational process. The brief will focus on seven examples of good practices that might serve as an inspiration for education policies across the continent. 

The thematically focused SIRIUS Policy Brief is available here.

Reducing the risk that youth with a migrant background in Europe will leave school early

 Reducing the risk that youth with a migrant background in Europe will leave school early

Even as the European Union (EU) in general moves closer to the EU 2020 target of reducing early school leaving (ESL) to a 10 percent threshold, wide disparities remain. Varied rates of progress can be seen not only across Member States and media, but also among social and ethnic groups within the 28 Member States. With the exception of the United Kingdom and Portugal, youth with an immigrant background are over represented among those who leave school early. Migrant youth therefore remain a target group for EU policy recommendations regarding strategies, policies, and measures to reduce ESL.

In this policy brief the authors focus on empirical findings, theoretical insights, and promising measures that may inform further policy action addressing the disproportionately high level of ESL among youth with a migrant background. The following three questions structure the content of this brief:

1/ What can be learned from empirical research on ESL among migrant youth?

2/ What features of national and regional education system can prevent ESL among migrant youth?

3/ What specific settings are promising for the implementation of measures to prevent, intervene in, and compensate for ESL among migrant youth? 

The thematically focused SIRIUS Policy Brief is available here

Refugee children in education in Europe. How to prevent a lost generation?

Refugee children in education in Europe - how to prevent a lost generation

In the policy brief we will show what refugee children need to be successful in school. We identified six major school arrangements that affect school success.

  1. Free of costs pre-school places for the youngest refugee children to start to learn the second language early.
  2. Sustained second language programs should be available from pre-school until upper-secondary school to accommodate children from all age groups. Teachers should get up-to-date second language teacher training and especially developed materials and methods.
  3. For 16+ and 18+ students: Education should be available also after compulsory schooling (for instance adult education) if we want to prevent a lost generation. Stopping or only providing limited access to education beyond compulsory schooling is highly disruptive.
  4. Short introductory classes, after which students are immersed into regular classes. Being placed for one or two years in welcome classes or international classes is detrimental to school success. Introductory classes should be connected to all secondary school levels (not just vocational education).
  5. Additional support teachers should be assigned to follow up on children’s needs.
  6. Direct access to English Master programs for students holding a BA, comparable to international students.

An integrated approach is key, where these arrangements are linked together (See also the recommendations of European Commission Report: Study for educational support for newly arrived migrants, PPMI 2013). For example, short introductory programs can only be successful when combined with sustained second language support.

This policy brief is mainly focused on education measures, however other policies and factors that have an impact on the education chances and outcomes of refugee children and youngsters.

The thematically focused SIRIUS Policy Brief is available here.

School Leaders – Advocates for Refugee and Migrants Students

School leaders

SIRIUS Policy Network on Migrant Education has since 2012 debated and researched policy priorities for migrant education and inclusion. Although its research did not specifically zoom in on the roles and responsibilities of the School leaders in this regards, the SIRIUS Agenda for Migrant Education in Europe (2014) outlines specific recommendations regarding the school leaders. The further exploration within the network and its experts and consultation with relevant other stakeholders from European Policy Network on School Leadership (EPNoSL) shines more light on the key roles school leaders have in implementing migrant and refugee education policy. With this Policy Brief SIRIUS attempts to highlight the school leaders as advocates for refugee and migrant students, agents of inclusiveness and social justice and focus on the role of school leaders in the implementation of refugee and migrant education policy as well as provide policy makers with recommendations on how to best support school leaders.

The thematically focused SIRIUS Policy Brief is available here.



Regional Policy Paper

Migrant Education Opportunities in the Baltic States: strong dependence on the level of school preparedness

Baltic states policy paperThe purpose of this policy paper is to explore the national policy measures related to pupils with a migrant background in the three Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The paper aims to identify similarities of policy responses to specific educational needs related to migrant background and point out the differences in approaches, bringing forward the examples of successful practice. The paper serves as an overview of the topic in the Baltic region, which aims to enable mutual learning and inspire the development of most effective strategies in order to shape education policies towards greater inclusiveness to respond to the diverse needs of the learners.

European Education, Training and Youth Forum 2014 Report

ETYF 2014The third edition of the European Education, Training and Youth (ETY) Forum took place in Brussels on 9th and 10th of October 2014. The theme of the Forum was Future priorities of the ET2020 Strategic Framework for European Cooperation in Education and Training and Synergies with Youth Policy. The event hosted forward looking discussions to identify key priority areas for policy cooperation as part of the review of the Framework for European Cooperation in Education and Training (ET2020). It gathered more than 350 participants representing different types of stakeholders and organisations active in education, training and youth.

Key messages from the Forum

The value of the Strategic Framework for European Cooperation in Education and Training (ET2020) as an integrated framework: Forum participants underlined the great value of having a holistic strategic framework covering education and training in all contexts, sectors and dimensions. Participants advocated strong links between the education and training sectors, and between youth work and employment. They also argued for an increased cooperation between the various stakeholders.

A holistic approach is crucial for building a bridge between education, training, youth work and the labour market, and for increasing dialogue among stakeholders. This approach implies collaboration involving formal, non-formal and informal education and training, the education and youth sectors, different levels of education, different Commission services and different Ministries at national level. Several stakeholders acknowledged the value of existing EU tools, cross-policy synergies and multiprofessional cooperation, but also emphasized the need to improve the cooperation framework, by promoting networking, cross-sector collaboration and cooperative learning opportunities.

Remaining challenges

In the context of ET2020, the following main challenges are still outstanding:

  • Employability and transition between education and the labour market,
  • The social dimension of education and training, for example the provision of equal access to education and training opportunities for all, and the provision of civic competences against the background of growing mistrust of the EU – especially among young people – and of rising extremism,
  • Supporting low-achievers in gaining basic and transversal skills and combating early school leaving more effectively,
  • Diversifying and professionalising the teaching profession and finding solutions to cope with the increasing diversity in the classroom/learning environment.

Issues neglected during the past ET2020 work cycle

The areas perceived as having been neglected during the past ET2020 work cycle include:

  • The social and equity dimension of education and training, the civic objectives of learning, and the consideration of countries’ socio-economic situations when designing education and training policies,
  • Cross-sector cooperation and partnerships between all types of stakeholders,
  • Recognition of non-formal and informal skills, competences and learning outcomes,
  • The use of technology in education, in particular ICT,
  • The investment in and support to entrepreneurship education,
  • The attractiveness of and support to the teaching profession.

Priorities for the next ET2020 work cycle

The next ET 2020 work cycle should focus on the following priorities and expected outcomes:

  • Developing a holistic approach linking education, training, youth work and employment, and increasing cross-sector cooperation between stakeholders,
  • Strengthening the social dimension of education and training and delivering on the strategic objective ‘Promote equity, social cohesion and active citizenship’ of ET2020. This also means promoting learning interventions for those not in 2 employment and enhancing the recognition and validation of non-formal and informal learning outcomes, especially for low-qualified youth/adults and marginalised groups,
  • Providing additional support, especially from national authorities, to ensure the professionalization of teachers (e.g. pedagogical and digital skills),
  • Encouraging the transnational mobility of learners and educators,
  • Supporting entrepreneurship education at all levels (starting at primary school level),
  • Improving learning outcomes relative to resources used (efficiency).

ET2020 working methods/governance

The Forum participants confirmed the importance of ET2020 for mutual learning through peer learning activities and sharing of best practices. They also recognised the key role played by the European Commission in promoting these activities.

On the other hand, participants emphasised the need to improve the ET2020 governance and working methods by:

  • Focussing on a limited number of priorities and on implementation, in the sectors where the EU can add value,
  • Developing a more systematic approach to enhance peer learning; setting up platforms to learn, exchange ideas and share good practice examples,
  • Communicating results and disseminating successful policies and best practices more effectively – at both national and EU level – using clearer language to allow key messages to reach a wider audience.

Stakeholder involvement

The key messages related to stakeholder involvement can be divided in two groups. On the one hand, the Forum participants advocated a better involvement of the stakeholders in the ET 2020 governance process and working methods, including suggestions for:

  • Involving different actors in the next ET2020 work cycle – notably parents and families, youth organisations, companies and the self-employed, and social partners,
  • Widening the range of stakeholder groups involved in ET2020 debates, for example by enhancing collaboration with representatives from informal and non-formal education, training and youth work,
  • Consulting educators on what they want to achieve and how.

On the other hand, the participants suggested a number of substantive ET2020 policy priorities concerning stakeholders, including:

  • Promoting cooperation mechanisms and increasing synergies across policies and between stakeholders from the variety of formal, informal and non-formal sectors,
  • Developing a community-based approach to education and the delivery of integrated services, and support to adult participation. This may involve reinforcing the links between schools and families to assist disadvantaged parents in helping their children to succeed,
  • Promoting active citizenship to support learners’ commitment in society.

Workshops took place on the following topics, and gathered stakeholders’ key policy proposals and processes and synergies:

  1. Promoting excellence and innovation
  2. Tackling the low-skills gap
  3. Supporting a new generation of educators
  4. Recognising and valuing skills and competences
  5. Promoting equity, social cohesion and active citizenship

European Education, Training and Youth Forum 2014 webpage

DG EAC Education, Training and Youth Forum 2014 event page (including video)

Draft outcome of proceedings from the European Ministerial Conference on Integration (Milan, 5-6 November 2014)

On 5 and 6 of November 2014 the Italian Presidency organized a Ministerial Conference on Integration, with the aim to further develop the Strategic Guidelines concerning the area of Freedom, Security and Justice adopted by the European Council in June 2014. The discussion built upon the Common Basic Principles adopted on 19 November 2004, the informal meeting of EU Integration Ministers of Zaragoza of 15-16 April 2010, the following Council Conclusions on Integration adopted on 3-4 June 2010, and the Council Conclusions adopted on 5 and 6 June 2014.

In this context delegations agreed on the need to explore the key aspects of integration, focusing on the different levels of governance at which the integration process unfolds and on the interconnections that exist between integration and related policy fields. The following aspects, linked to education, should be taken into consideration:

I. Addressing integration through a comprehensive approach

The Council Conclusions on the integration of third-country nationals legally residing in the EU of 5 and 6 June 2014 recognized the importance of a comprehensive approach to integration and of mainstreaming policies and practices in all relevant policy sectors and levels of government. The Conclusions further specified that such an approach to integration presupposes inter alia effective reception policies and measures responding to the specific needs of both individuals and different groups of migrants, which are more likely to be exposed to social exclusion, including beneficiaries of international protection.

II. Non-discrimination

The 2005 Common Agenda for Integration indicated several measures to favour migrants’ access to the labour market, including innovative approaches to prevent labour market discrimination, training courses, exploring additional ways of recognising newcomers’ qualifications and facilitated conditions for accessing the labour market for women. Efforts in this field should continue to be a priority for European States not only because non-discrimination is a fundamental principle of EU law but also because, as recognized by the EU 2020 strategy, increasing migrants’ access to the labour market is crucial to achieve sustainable economic growth in Europe.

Non-discrimination plays a central role also regarding migrants’ access to education. The common basic principle number 5 states that efforts in education are critical to preparing immigrants, and particularly their descendants, to be more successful and more active participants in society. To this regard, the Council Conclusions of  November 2009 on the education of children with a migrant background invited  Member States to set up or strengthen anti-discrimination mechanisms, increasing the permeability of pathways within school systems and removing barriers to individual progression through the system, in order to combat segregation and contribute to higher achievement levels for migrant learners. Children with a migrant background should be provided with targeted support in order to fill the gap in education results that still exists between them and children belonging to the native population.

III. Mainstreaming of integration policies

As shown by initiatives undertaken in several countries, mainstreamed policies present numerous advantages. First of all, they allow responding to the needs of heterogeneous and increasing diverse societies, pushing towards a diffuse sensibility to diversity that contrasts discrimination and stereotypes. Secondly, they allow better coping with the rising number of second- and third-generation immigrants, who may face structural barriers to succeeding in education or on the labour market. Finally, if properly managed, mainstreaming of integration priorities also allows designing policies that are both cost-effective and capable of improving outcomes for the society as a whole, thus maximizing the impact of public resources.

IV. Monitoring of integration policies

The common basic principle number 11 states that developing clear goals, indicators and evaluation mechanisms is necessary to adjust policy, evaluate progress on integration and to make the exchange of information more effective. Following the priorities set by the Potsdam ministerial conference in May 2007 and reaffirmed by the Vichy Ministerial conference in November 2008, the ministerial conference held in Zaragoza in 2010 identified Common European “indicators” in four areas of relevance for integration: employment, education, social inclusion and active citizenship. Stressing the importance of such indicators, the Commission stated in its 2011 European Agenda for Integration the intention to monitor developments in this field and formulate recommendations, in dialogue with the Member States.

Read the draft outcome of proceedings from the European Ministerial Conference on Integration (Milan, 5-6 November 2014) via Italian Presidency webpage

Mentoring: What Can Support Projects Achieve That Schools Cannot?

Although corporate multinational firms around the world have long reaped the benefits of mentoring and coaching programs, such programs are a relatively new fixture in Europe’s education system. For disadvantaged children of migrant background, who are disproportionately among those who underperform in the classroom, mentoring programs provide specific and personalized support on the road to academic success. Mentors who act as role models and fill the role of an older sibling can help improve the cognitive gains, self-esteem, and self-reliance of their mentees. When a high-achieving university student with an immigrant background teams up with a younger, at-risk student with immigrant parents, the positive effects can extend far beyond the classroom.

In fact, mentoring is important precisely because it addresses core needs that schools themselves are not equipped to fill. The intense and individualized guidance provided via mentoring can motivate students more deeply and personally, and learning in an informal setting rather than a classroom can be a refreshing change for teenagers. Additionally, mentors can tackle emotional, cognitive, and social problems in a more holistic manner—for example, by reaching out to a student’s parents—than teachers are able to realize in the constraints of the school environment. The power of mentors lies in their ability to push pupils to become agents of their own educational trajectories and destinies.

This policy brief explores how European policymakers can design mentoring and other educational support projects to be an integral part of the educational landscape, and explains why it is important for them to do so. It highlights examples of successful mentoring experiences that focus on cultivating the hidden talents and potential of children of immigrants, countering prevailing narratives about these children possessing an educational deficit and needing to “catch up” in school. Finally, the brief summarizes current research on the benefits of mentoring and offers recommendations for program development and for policymakers at the EU level.

Download Policy Brief on Mentoring

The Brief is also available for download in French, German and Spanish.

This policy brief is part of a series produced by the SIRIUS Network in collaboration with MPI Europe, which focuses on how policies at the EU level and within individual Member States can better support the education outcomes of young people with a migrant background.

Via Migration Policy Institute