New Scots: integrating refugees in Scotland's communities 2014-2017 final report

Report on collaborative work which has taken place under the New Scots refugee integration strategy from 2014 to 2017.


Key Achievements:

  • Commitment to the actions from a broad group of partners has enabled improvements to progress. This particularly benefitted the co-production of guidance and information on entitlements to education and associated support.
  • Events which brought education practitioners together with refugees or organisations with knowledge and expertise of refugee issues have improved awareness and helped address barriers identified by New Scots. For example, Bilingualism Does Matter workshops and Scotland, People, Languages Forum event.
  • Local partnerships have worked to address unmet demand for English for Speakers of Other Languages ( ESOL), particularly by working to improve understanding of demand through better data capture and linking providers.
  • Refreshed ESOL Strategy for Scotland.

Policy Context

Education is devolved to the Scottish Government, and Scotland has its own distinctive qualifications.

Universal access to compulsory education is set out in the Standards in Scotland's Schools Etc Act 2000. All children and young people, including refugee and asylum seeking children, are entitled to access local nursery and school education in Scotland. Local authorities and schools are responsible for the provision of education within a broad, non-statutory framework called Curriculum for Excellence which aims to ensure all young people become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

The Additional Support for Learning Act 2004 (as amended) requires education authorities to identify, meet and keep under review the additional support needs of pupils for whose education they are responsible and to tailor provision according to their individual needs. The Act's Code of Practice specifically identifies English as an additional language as a potential additional support need.

Scotland's colleges play a key role in providing education and skills for those over the age of 16. The Scottish Funding Council ( SFC) waives fees for asylum seekers attending college and studying a full or part-time English for Speakers of Other Languages ( ESOL) course or other part-time advanced or non-advanced course. [44] Refugees are entitled to access higher and further education on the same basis as anyone legally resident in Scotland.

The Adult ESOL Strategy 2007 established the framework within which Community Planning Partnerships are funded to provide ESOL. Further education colleges deliver the majority of ESOL provision in Scotland, with community learning supporting flexibility of provision. A refreshed ESOL Strategy: Welcoming Our Learners: Scotland's ESOL Strategy 2015-2020, [45] reaffirmed Scotland's commitment to high quality English language provision to enable participation and integration to Scottish life through work, study, family and local community.

Unlike the rest of the UK, eligible Scottish domiciled students studying full-time in Scotland are able to have tuition fees paid by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland ( SAAS) if studying for a first degree or equivalent. This includes refugees who meet the residency criteria.

Interest in the work of the New Scots Education thematic group increased in light of the humanitarian crisis, as local authorities' awareness of services offering English language provision ( ESOL) such as community learning and development increased. The New Scots group expanded to include representatives of the Higher Education sector, DWP and local authority areas.

Strategy Outcomes

In 2014 the New Scots strategy set out four outcomes for Education:

1. Refugees and asylum seekers are able to achieve the English Language skills they need to successfully integrate with Scotland's communities.

2. Refugees and asylum seekers access appropriate education opportunities and increase their qualifications/knowledge/experience as a result.

3. Refugees and asylum seekers are supported to use pre-existing qualifications and access appropriate employment/additional education opportunities as a result.

4. Scotland's linguistic diversity is promoted and as a result is valued, enabling refugees to contribute fully/effectively to Scottish society.

1. English language skills needed for successful integration

Glasgow ESOL providers have coordinated their efforts to establish a picture of overall demand for ESOL in Glasgow. This has not been achieved before. With a central database, providers can now work together to address the demand, and learners can identify provision suitable for their needs more quickly. It also aims to help address issues of multiple registrations to secure a place, which resulted in inflated waiting lists to access ESOL in some areas. Providers in other areas are now looking to replicate this model.

Education Scotland refreshed the national strategy for ESOL; Welcoming Our Learners. [46] Members of the refugee community took part in discussions held around Scotland as part of this refresh. Their views reinforced the need for delivery to be learner-centred and to have an effectively supported learner journey.

The Scottish Refugee Council's Holistic Integration Service included language support. The service reported on the difficulties in recognising small improvements in language because the system did not allow for this. In its second year, it reported that 64% of people who accessed the service were assessed at SCQF level 2 for ESOL - this included ESOL literacy level. [47] The development of the new SQA Preparation for Literacy unit in ESOL, has helped to overcome this issue by providing additional recognition of attainment as well as building on the existing suite of SQA ESOL qualifications. [48]

The Scottish Government is funding Sharing Lives Sharing Languages, a peer education pilot, which aims to build connections between refugees and those whose first language is not English, and the host community, by developing a participative approach to language learning. The pilot, which utilises a peer education model, has launched in four areas: Aberdeenshire, Midlothian, Renfrewshire and Dundee. Learning from existing peer education and community-based initiatives are informing the pilot and development of this approach to language learning.

Case Study

Developing A New ESOL qualification

As more refugees and asylum seekers arrived in Scotland it was recognised that the number of people at the very early stages of English learning, some with little or no literacy, was increasing. Existing Scottish Qualifications Authority National Qualifications in ESOL were proving very challenging for these learners.

SQA developed an additional ESOL Unit at National 2 level called "Preparation for Literacy" to provide an entry point in the learning journey. This new National 2 unit was made available for centres from January 2016. Previous SQA ESOL literacy learning and teaching materials can continue to be used to support learners at this level.

SQA now provides a comprehensive range of ESOL qualifications which meet the needs of ESOL learners from complete beginner to university entrance level. There are now three ESOL literacies units specifically designed for candidates who are not literate in English or have little or no literacy in their first language.

The seven units in the new National 2 support and recognise the achievements of candidates in schools, colleges and education training providers in the initial stages of learning English. This means that all ESOL learners can get accreditation for their learning. This is important to help support learners' to transition to other education courses or employment.

2. Access to education opportunities

Working toward this outcome has required many different organisations to work collaboratively, to pool knowledge and experience. It has resulted in the production of a number of key documents including:

  • A guide for refugee parents to understand the entitlements to education for children [49] ; developed with the involvement of the Refugee Women's Strategy Group.
  • The development of financial support advice and guidance on access to further and higher education.

Partnership work is now beginning to take place focussing specifically on young asylum seekers and refugees.

New Scots highlighted the issue of access to education opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers. It was also identified that there was a need to increase understanding and awareness of entitlement to learning and education for providers. In Year 1 of New Scots, the Education thematic group started work to identify all of the barriers to accessing education and ways in which they could be addressed. Due to the complexities involved and the engagement of an increased number of agencies, this work has continued over the lifetime of New Scots. Partners identified the following as key barriers to access:

  • Limited criteria to access Higher Education (for asylum seekers).
  • ESOL access.
  • Lack of recognition of prior learning qualification, skills and knowledge.
  • Lack of knowledge in the education sector on eligibility for Student Support Funding.
  • Timescales to receive funding awards through SAAS/Colleges.
  • Confusion on the meaning of immigration status by education professionals leading to conflicting advice.
  • Lack of information on progression routes.
  • Lack of access to childcare.
  • Barriers due to limited funding and policy gap.

Maryhill Integration Network
Maryhill Integration Network
Photo by John Lanigan

This work is a starting point from which organisations can begin to address the barriers listed and partners have now made clear commitments to contribute. New Scots has provided an opportunity which did not exist previously; by bringing together partner organisations who are all able to contribute from their respective positions and identify how they could support work to tackle these barriers.

The Scottish Government and the Scottish Funding Council developed a guide on financial support for refugees and asylum seekers in further and higher education in Scotland. [50] The New Scots education thematic group commented on the guide during its development.

Amendments were made to existing legislation to clarify that any student who has been granted refugee status, humanitarian protection or another form of leave to remain is eligible to apply for student support in Scotland. This removed ambiguity for resettled Syrian refugees who arrived with humanitarian protection status, which will also benefit people arriving under future resettlement programmes. [51]

Universities across Scotland have recognised the potential of refugees and asylum seekers and taken steps to offer support to enable them to continue or take up studies in a variety of ways. Universities including Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian and Strathclyde have offered scholarship programmes, particularly for postgraduates or students whose studies have been interrupted. Universities Scotland, in collaboration with the Scottish Refugee Council and heads of admissions from a range of Scottish universities, has published Guidance for Universities on Providing Asylum Seekers and Refugees with Access to Higher Education. [52]

3. Support to use existing qualifications to access employment or additional education

Employment and education are important for individual wellbeing and to enable people to make a contribution to wider society. Many refugees and asylum seekers arrive with existing skills, qualifications and experience but may face challenges in accessing employment or continuing education for a number of reasons, including recognition of their qualifications, proof of accreditation, gaps in education or employment and lack of experience working in the UK. [53]

The thematic group explored the possibility of adapting the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework ( SCQF) Recognition of Prior Learning ( RPL) Toolkit [54] to meet the needs of refugees. RPL focuses on recognition of learning gained from experience rather than formal learning, although the toolkit also encompasses previous formal, non-formal and informal learning. The conclusion of this exploratory work has been that specific organisations would need a bespoke adaptation of the toolkit to address the specific needs of refugees and asylum seekers.

As a result, the Scottish Government commissioned a review of the 2010 Scoping Study on Support Mechanisms for the Recognition of Skills, Learning and Qualifications for Migrant Workers and Refugees. [55] This work has predominantly taken place in the final year of New Scots and continues to attract interest, particularly as refugees settle across Scotland and local authorities look to support them in pursuing learning and employment opportunities. The TERU at Glasgow University reviewed the scoping study and the recommendations are being considered by the Scottish Government.

Initiatives have developed during New Scots which aim to support refugees with existing skills to retrain or obtain the necessary professional accreditations to use their skills in Scotland. Bridges Programmes has developed a new refugee doctors project in partnership with NHS Education for Scotland, the British Medical Association, Clyde College and City of Glasgow College to support refugees who were fully qualified doctors in their home country to achieve General Medical Council registration and a licence to practise medicine. The project supports refugee doctors as they retrain and begin careers working in the NHS. The Scottish Government is providing funding to support the project for 2017-18. [56]

4. Recognised value of Scotland's linguistic diversity

The Scottish Government's 1+2 language policy in schools has potential to offer real benefits for refugee communities. Activities have been undertaken in relation to this policy, including a national language event and promoting refugee languages to 1+2 leads in local authorities.

An additional outcome which developed during New Scots work has been to support practitioners who are working with people who are bilingual. Bilingualism Does Matter seminars contributed to promoting Scotland's linguistic diversity. Practitioners, particularly school teachers, attended workshops to support them in working with bilingual pupils. This benefits not only refugee communities but also wider multi-lingual communities and is complimentary to the 1+2 language policy. There is potential to adopt this approach more widely and expand it to reach a wider cross section of frontline staff working with bilingual learners.

Case Study

Bilingualism Does Matter

As Scotland has welcomed refugee families there has been an increase in the number of refugee children attending schools across the country. For many schools this is their first experience of children and young people who are developing bilingual speakers.

To help support teachers develop the skills they need to support bilingual children from refugee families the New Scots education theme group developed a seminar called 'Bilingualism Does Matter'. This partnership involving the University of Edinburgh, SCILT Scotland's Centre for Languages and Glasgow City Council's English as an Additional Language ( EAL) Service prepared and delivered seminars using their organisation's existing expertise.

The seminars focused on how bilingualism develops, the advantages of being bilingual, the importance of using a person's first language (L1) for learning and practical strategies to use L1 in the classroom.

"The seminar provided "very important and useful information regarding bilingualism and helped me to understand how I can help my bilingual pupils using different ways to support them in the classroom."

"The seminar helped with "understanding the research around bilingualism and development and learning classroom strategies when working with bilingual pupils in the classroom."

Seminars were delivered in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness in October and November 2016. They provided a good opportunity for teachers to ask questions and discuss practice with experts and peers. The seminars were all oversubscribed. Those who were able to attend all felt that their needs were fully or partly met by the seminar.

Although developed for New Scots, the skills developed through the seminars will help support all bilingual learners.

Continuing Challenges

English language skills continue to be a priority for refugees to enable them to settle into communities, feel safe and confident accessing services and to pursue employment or education. The strategy has highlighted the continuing challenge of ensuring the right ESOL provision is there to meet the specific needs of learners, ranging from beginners to those requiring more specialised language support for professional work or further and higher education.

In Glasgow, where level of demand for ESOL is high, multiple enrolment points for ESOL provision have required duplication of effort for applicants. However a trial will pilot whether a central enrolment point could mitigate this and enable a coordinated approach to monitoring levels of demand for ESOL in an area with many providers. If this proves successful it could potentially be rolled out across Scotland. There are also funding barriers for refugees who wish to pursue further studies after studying ESOL at college due to a limit of three years of bursary support within a six year period.

Although there has been some progress, there is a lack of scholarships for asylum seekers and those that do exist sometimes have additional criteria restricting them further, for example to specific nationalities. Asylum seekers may also face issues undertaking course-based work placements due to their immigration status allowing volunteering but not work.


Email: Scotland's Refugee Strategy

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