In 2015 some 12,000 refugees, including many young people under 18 without parents, arrived in the state of Bremen (population 670,000). Simultaneously, many migrants from poorer parts the EU have been attracted by the combination of jobs and affordable housing. An education system which was already struggling with the highest levels of child poverty in Germany alongside low levels of funding (compared with other major cities) has struggled to cope.
The response of the state government has been to expand the system via a massive outsourcing of jobs combined with a significant reduction of staff terms and conditions.
For the young refugees, long waiting times of up to and over 6 months before being able to access a school place still exist. Recently, the class sizes in some parts of the state of Bremen have been raised by 25% to ‘increase capacity’ and reduce waiting lists.
In addition these young people are often labelled ‘Sprachanfänger’ (‘Speech-beginners’ instead of DAZ - German as Second Language) despite clearly being able to speak a range of languages other than German – often being actively bi-lingual (e.g. Kurdish / Arabic speakers.) The staff in the ‘new arrivals’ and German as a Second Language classes (DAZ / VBK etc.) are under intense pressure – often newly qualified, or with limited teacher training qualifications - facing learner groups with high levels of heterogeneity, fluctuation and often trauma. Resources allocated to these groups of learners are generally significantly less than those of regular class groups.
Many of the newly arrived young people make excellent progress in developing their German skills – but as the limited free places within the mainstream education system fill up however there is an increasing jam at the point of entry into regular classes – or once there, support is limited - leading in both cases to further frustration.
In the vocational sector, where students with a migrant background born in Germany face significant structural discrimination in accessing apprenticeship places, newly arrived young people find themselves at the back of the queue.
Bremen has made significant progress in the development of an inclusive education system – just as all children and young people should have a right to a place at a quality public school regardless of disability, they also have the right to an education alongside their peers regardless of immigration status.
With support from our international union – Education International, the Bremen State Branch of the education industry union in Germany – the GEW – is delivering a project called “Teachers Organising for Quality Education for Refugees.”
In initial project work leading up to a launch meeting we have been inviting submissions for this pamphlet. Our members write here from the chalkface of education provision. Every day in schools in much of Germany, teachers are delivering education to tens of thousands of newly arrived refugees and other migrants. Teacher voices need to be heard – and governments need to take action - if we are to ensure quality education for all young people in Europe and beyond.