Education is both a fundamental right for all human beings and a powerful tool for social inclusion: two truths which must inform European countries in their response to migration and refugees. They also inspired a joint project on education and migration by EFEE and the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE). How can education social partners contribute to the inclusion of newcomers in Europe?

On 14 and 15 October, the Final Conference took place in Brussels marking the end of ETUCE and EFEE’s joint project on promoting effective integration of migrants and refugees in education through social dialogue. The event was chaired by EFEE President Michael Moriarty together with ETUCE President Christine Blower. Among the participant and speakers were EFEE members from Belgium, Ireland, Malta, Montenegro, Sweden and UK, members of ETUCE, representatives from DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (European Commission), and the Finnish Presidency of the EU.

“This project doesn’t just point out problems. It looks for solutions.” That is how Professor Nihad Bunar, the project’s lead researcher from the University of Stockholm, described his motivation to get involved. Indeed, the research report Professor produced in the course of the project offers concrete case studies from Belgium, Serbia and Spain, shedding a light on the situation of migrants in these countries as well as the work that education employers and education trade unions are doing to foster inclusion.

Within a panel discussion session, members of EFEE and ETUCE shared with all conference participants their main challenges and opportunities within their countries to promote integration. From EFEE’s side, Brenda Lynch (Education and Training Boards Ireland) and Koenraad Vandenbussche (GO! Education of the Flemmish Community) presented their views on the issue. Ms Lynch emphasised, among others, the importance of having continuous professional development opportunities for school leaders including elements on how to foster inclusive working environments in schools. Mr Vandenbussche concluded his contribution with a statement that we have to break out of our traditional view on education and look for flexible solutions that answers the needs of all group of learners.

Furthermore the conference offered an opportunity to all participants to further discuss the draft Joint Guidelines for the effective inclusion of migrants and refugees in education, which has been developed throughout the project. Based on the feedback provided during the conference the guidelines will be revised and presented for further discussion and adoption at the upcoming European Sectoral Social Dialogue in Education Plenary on 2 December 2019.

After a breakfast-talk by EFEE’s General Secretary Daniel Wisniewski and Susan Flocken (European Director of ETUCE) on a possible Quality Framework for the Effective Integration of Migrants and Refugees, all participants decamped to the European Parliament for the public hearing ‘Migration and education: Humanity and rights or fences and hostility?’ The session was hosted by MEP Pierfrancesco Majorino and gave an opportunity to premiere the documentary Education Without Borders, which tracks the debates and case studies throughout the project. The film was warmly received by the audience and those who were actively involved in the project over the last years. It shaded a personal light on the richness and opportunities that newly arrived children bring with them when arriving in Europe, and shows a variety of approaches that dedicated education professionals and authorities are taking to support them in their integration.

Furthermore, the hearing foresaw a discussion with a broader set of social actors and civil society organisations to explore opportunities for further joint actions. For this purpose Representatives of SOLIDAR, PICUM, COFACE, the Red Cross, and Eurochild were invited. It was concluded that a network building all over Europe is needed to ensure the integration of migrants into education, starting from a child-focused and rights-based approach to inclusion. This joint project showed furthermore that education social partners are committed to this vision and have a lot to offer in its implementation.