Teaching that Matters for Migrant Students (TEAMS): Helping migrant students' integration in schools

The TEAMS project addresses the urgent need to understand the challenges and opportunities for schools as they respond to the increased number of migrant students in classrooms.

Teens listening to a teacher speak

The project involves interdisciplinary collaboration between four teams from the Universities of Edinburgh, Stockholm, Jyväskylä and Turku, led by Dr. Nataša Pantić.

The research focused on teachers and other school staff collaborating to support students from migrant backgrounds, among others. The aim of the project was to understand and support the ways of working and factors that facilitate the integration of migrant students in schools in terms of their learning, socialisation and developing a sense of belonging to the school community. 

Visit the TEAMS website

What was the issue?

Many schools in the receiving countries have experienced a recent increase in students from migrant backgrounds. How school systems respond to migration has an enormous impact on migrant integration. Schools can be vehicles for social integration and mobility, and for developing a sense of belonging to the local community. Schools can also be isolating and discriminatory places and can act as a barrier to integration. Within schools, teachers are key for creating opportunities for learning and participation for migrant students, among others. However, teachers may also inadvertently reinforce the barriers due to assumptions embedded in the receiving systems designed to cater for more homogenous student populations.

While teachers and other school staff often feel committed to supporting all students, they have also reported feeling unprepared to deal with the increasing diversity of student populations; for example, due to language barriers or cultural differences. This can lead many to perceive migrant support as an additional demand on teachers’ time, rather than an integral part of their job, treating diversity as a problem rather than a resource for the receiving schools and systems.

What did we do?

TEAMS adopted a fresh approach of treating diversity as a normal, common feature of schools today, rather than a problem. The main aims of the TEAMS project were to:

  • understand how schools and teachers can address barriers and create opportunities for migrant integration in schools
  • help teachers and school leaders meet the needs of migrant students

The project analysed social networks and used ethnographic research across seven school sites in Scotland, Finland and Sweden to examine how teachers interact with students, their families, school colleagues, specialists and external agencies to address risks of exclusion, underachievement and other forms of marginalisation.

A comprehensive, mixed-method analysis of both the structures and nature of teachers’ day-to-day interactions over three school terms has helped us understand how they build inclusive school communities. These are critical for building ‘protective networks’ to address barriers to learning for migrant students.

TEAMS’ comprehensive analysis helped uncover the mechanisms for migrant integration in schools, including insights about:

  • teachers’ work within the institutional settings, as individuals and in relation to colleagues and other professionals within their social networks
  • migrant students’ experiences of integration in terms of academic success, cross-cultural socialisation and a sense of belonging in the school community
  • policies and social contexts that provide support systems for students, teachers and other school staff across different countries and locations

TEAMS has had a strong Knowledge Exchange (KE) component from the outset. The researchers reached out to, and worked together with, dozens of stakeholders for schools and education authorities within and beyond the participating countries to raise awareness of the issues around supporting migrant students in schools and to disseminate the findings. 

Workshops and events

For the participating schools, the TEAMS project involved workshops in which students produced short films featuring both students and members of staff. These raised awareness about issues migrant students face and shared the research findings. Workshops with staff incorporated innovative ways to engage users. Participants in each school site (between 50 and 100 colleagues) were able to engage with the visual network feedback based on the data from their school and discuss what their networks look like and why, as well as what they would like them to look like and how to achieve the desired change.

Learn more about the workshops on the TEAMS website

Throughout the project, TEAMS project members carried out and participated in numerous knowledge exchange events across Scotland, Sweden and Finland, as well as other countries in Europe and internationally. In Scotland, one of the main audiences for our findings have been EAL (English as an Additional Language) and other language-support teams, as well as school leaders and other support staff, teachers and academics involved in work in this area. Many reported that they have begun to use insights from the TEAMS project to influence their work (see examples of impact below).

Learn more about our events on the TEAMS website

UNESCO report

The project incorporated the report on “The Future of the Teaching Profession”. Commissioned by UNESCO, the report highlights the importance of teacher agency and inclusive learning communities in increasingly diverse and uncertain educational settings.

The ILO/UNESCO Committee of Experts on the Application of the Recommendations on Teachers (CEART) used the report as a background paper, to inform the key policy makers’ discussion. CEART’s global report, which guides national policy making in the area of teachers’ work and education and changes in the conditions and regulations that guide that work, reflected the UNESCO report’s recommendations. The findings have also been disseminated in other countries receiving migrant students (e.g. from Venezuela in Chile) through the PI’s partnerships there.

What was the impact?

The TEAMS project has made a significant contribution to both understanding and supporting change at local, national and international levels.

Staff and students shared examples of changes in processes and outcomes resulting from involvement in the TEAMS research. These include the inclusive ways of collaborating within and beyond schools in relation to supporting migrant students/EAL learners.

Watch the video

Staff and leadership teams have reported the impact the project had on their school development. This includes how they integrated insights from the TEAMS project in the work of an equalities group to:

  • address allegations of racism
  • create welcome packs for newly arrived students
  • decolonise curriculums
  • promote a more distributed form of collaboration between staff and with specialists such as English as an Additional Language support services

The results of the project encourage professionals to think about collaborative networks in their own settings and how they can be developed and enhanced to improve support for children from migrant backgrounds. The impact of TEAMS has been to empower practitioners to recognise and use the vast amount of tacit knowledge that exists in school communities and to mobilise resources and local knowledge of students and families. This has brought different kinds of expertise to the forefront for removing barriers to learning and participation of migrant students.

The KE activities with education professionals raised awareness of the positive impact of collaborative networks in schools to support students from migrant backgrounds. Teachers and their leadership teams are now more aware of the range of potential support services available for migrant children within their schools and communities. They have been encouraged to reach out to these services, as well as to their existing EAL support teams, where applicable.

Impact on EAL services in Scotland

Staff in EAL services in Scotland were able to plan a measurable impact in terms of the future development of the work of these services. This includes service delivery planning and developing resources and support networks. These teams are not large – between five and fifteen strong normally - but their involvement with most schools in their local authority areas makes their influence at local/regional level very wide.

Seven EAL services who engaged with the network visuals created to illustrate the collaborative networks in the schools have provided feedback about the impact the TEAMS KE activities have had upon their work with schools and migrant students. We received feedback from:

  • Aberdeen
  • Aberdeenshire
  • Dumfries and Galloway
  • Falkirk
  • Moray
  • Highlands
  • The north of England consortium

The Head Teacher of the EAL & Traveller support service in the Scottish Borders told us that their team are currently using TEAMS outcomes to conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of their service provision. This encompasses decolonising the curriculum and strengthening collaborative teams in schools to increase local capacity.

In Scotland, staff from EAL and other organisations, such as the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), the professional body that regulates the teaching profession, and Education Scotland, the government agency responsible for Scottish education, were involved in developing the TEAMS Policy Brief. This publication summarises the implications for educational policy in Scotland.

Read the TEAMS Policy Brief

Examples of TEAMS findings in practice

TEAMS findings have been used to inform the response to the new influx of Ukrainian refugees both at local authority levels (Scotland, Slovakia) and (trans-) nationally by the Nordic Council of Ministers in Scandinavian countries.  

Read the response online

In Scotland, dozens of schools across several education authorities have used TEAMS findings to support their efforts to welcome and sustain inclusion of students with migrant backgrounds, decolonise curriculums and implement collaborative networks that support inclusive practices and cultures in schools.

For example, the TEAMS project has informed a shift in the way teachers and schools use the English as an Additional Language (EAL) support services as resources for themselves to incorporate support for EAL in their teaching, rather than delegating the responsibility to the specialists. This kind of shift is critical for making inclusive practice a common feature of teaching and schooling in the contexts of increasing the diversity of student populations.

Examples of impact at school level include a school that integrated insights from the project into the work of its Equality Committee after working with TEAMS staff. The school developed strategies to proactively promote anti-racism and address issues before they escalate. The Head Teacher included these strategies in the school development plan. The work of the Equality Committee, in terms of recording and dealing with any issues, will remain part of this process. The Equality Committee have presented the TEAMS project to all staff at the school.

Boy doing schoolwork in class

The Head Teacher stated that the creation of a ‘paper trail’ of evidence will become part of a ‘culture change’ but that this change remained a ‘work in progress’. The process is described in more detail in a case study that uses The Agents of Change Toolkit (ACT) as a way of sharing examples of change internationally.

Read the case study

The Agents of Change Toolkit

ACT won the UN RCE award for an Outstanding Flagship Project for promoting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Dozens of schools and organisations around the world have used ACT to plan, implement and evaluate whole-school change and document case studies of change processes. This includes those that have advanced integration of migrant students in Scotland, Finland, Sweden and Spain.

In another school, the leadership team used the project’s findings to promote a more distributed form of collaboration between staff and specialists, such as English as an Additional Language (EAL) support services, to develop a support network for migrant students in their school community.

The Deputy Head Teacher met researchers from the TEAMS project, amongst others, at the TEAMS knowledge café event in February 2023. Further meetings were arranged online following this event. Through discussion, it was agreed that the support network for migrant students was necessary to avoid an unsustainable over-reliance upon stretched EAL support staff at the school. Staff from the school and researchers from the TEAMS project felt that the resources of the whole school community could be mobilised to meet the needs of EAL learners, and they should explore ways to widen and develop support networks.

The Deputy Head Teacher (with an additional remit as a senior development officer for equality/diversity within the school) has been driving forward initiatives, supported by researchers from TEAMS, to strengthen support systems for EAL learners in the school. The process is ongoing and school staff are beginning to adopt new ways of thinking about migrant students.

Staff at the school are beginning to see EAL learners as a collective responsibility of the whole school community. The school plans to continue to build upon the aforementioned initiatives and further embed diversity within the school’s ethos. The Deputy Head Teacher expressed a hope that the school may be able to host a ‘sharing good practice’ event, perhaps in 2024, to spread skills, resources and ideas about diversity more widely.

Many other examples of using ideas and outcomes from TEAMS, where schools initiated a range of new ways of working to support EAL learners, include:

  • a school’s English Department helping with the assessment of EAL learners
  • volunteers have begun working with EAL learners in the school (e.g. Ukrainian/Russian speakers from the migrant community and a local university)
  • subject teachers in the school are beginning to translate lesson materials, provide word-banks, etc.
  • offering qualifications in community languages (e.g. Higher Cantonese)
  • developing the ‘languages café’ where EAL learners make presentations about their home languages and their cultural backgrounds
  • offering support from the school canteen in terms of culturally appropriate food
  • developing links between the school and other schools in the area to share resources and knowledge

Together, these examples show how sustainable change can be achieved in individual and collective practices that continue to inspire new users. More information and resources from the TEAMS project and related projects are available on the TEAMS website.

Visit the TEAMS website

You can stay up to date with the TEAMS work via our newsletters, blog and publications on our website.

Newsletters, blogs, and publications on the TEAMS website

Please get in touch with Kirsty Shand (Administrator) or Nataša Pantić (Principal Investigator) if you would like to learn more about becoming involved.

Contact Kirsty Shand     Contact Nataša Pantić