top of page

Inclusive Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Scotland

The crisis created by the war in Syria is a multi-faceted challenge which started in 2011. As of December 2015, it was estimated that 4.3 million refugees have left the country, seeking refuge in neighbouring countries like Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, as well as several European countries (Gower & Cromarty, 2016). The UNHCR has been the primary agency for ensuring resettlement policies are implemented. It has reached out to the international community which includes countries like Germany, Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom. Prior to the crisis created by war in Syria, the literacy rate for 15-24 year olds was 95%. Within four years, the enrollment rate in Syrian schools dropped down to 6%, while it is estimated that more than 50% of refugee children do not have access to any form of education (Save the Children, 2015). Children who do have access to education face additional challenges which depend on the education system of the host country. These numbers are important, because they affect an entire generation of the Syrian population, which implies that even if the war ends the prospects for economic stability are limited. Education could facilitate as the primary protective factor for ensuring that the future of refugee children is not compromised by present day events.

The integration of refugees with a host community can be recognised as a dynamic two-way process, when the complexity of social relationships is highlighted. Policies would need to extend beyond targets or indicators, and focus on the nuances created by cultural differences (Strang & Ager, 2010). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), recognises that every child has the right to education. A report published by the Migration Policy Institute, discussed the integration of Syrian refugee children into a host country. It was identified that as the access to formal education became limited, the risk of poverty, infant mortality, early marriage, sexual exploitation and child labour increased (Sirin & Rogers-Sirin, 2015). The risk factors were noted to be higher for girls than boys. The study reiterated that the benefits of education depended on the integration of the host country’s culture with the Syrian culture. Hence, schools would need to adopt an inclusive approach, to ensure that the children truly benefited from the educational services provided. Furthermore, educators would need to recognise the nature of the trauma experienced by the children and their families, and act accordingly. To ensure this happens seamlessly, educators would need to be provided with relevant training, that is specific to the context they work within.

The New Scots strategy (2014-2017) is an initiative which aims to cater to the needs of asylum-seekers and refugees in Scotland. The education of refugees is one of the targets set within this scheme, with Education Scotland as the primary stakeholder (Scottish Government, 2017:53). The outcomes defined within this include:

1. Ensuring that all refugees and asylum seekers develop English language skills necessary for settlement in Scotland;

2. Providing access to educational opportunities;

3. Empowering individuals to utilise their pre-existing qualifications to seek relevant employment or further education and;

4. Recognising the value of linguistic diversity in Scotland.

One of the achievements of this initiative is the development of a new ESOL qualification (English for Speakers of Other Languages) customised to meet the needs of incoming refugees. The initiative has merit, in that it caters to the immediate expectations. However, when the long-term aspirations from the education system are considered, one must consider the integration of refugee learners into Scottish schools.

The Curriculum for Excellence currently implemented in Scotland, emphasises on inclusion, with the understanding that the needs of the learners are social, physical, intellectual, cultural and, emotional. The Excellence for All aspect of the policy emphasises that diversity within the classroom is important (College Development Network, 2017). The Scottish education system places importance on the need for inclusive education. The basic principles of inclusive pedagogy imply that the individual’s ability to learn cannot be viewed from a deterministic standpoint; rather every learner is unique and given the right environment, they will be able to succeed.

Implementation of inclusive education requires a commitment to ensure that such an environment is made available to every learner. Furthermore, inclusive education isn’t determined by individual teachers alone, but rather requires the efforts of the community at large (Spratt & Florian, 2015). The importance of inclusive education becomes apparent when all members of the community are recognised as a part of the social capital.

The expectations from refugee families indicate that, they seek a safe space of cultural acceptance in the host country, in order to transcend from survival to settlement. The above discussion indicates that within the context of Scotland, there is an existing framework for inclusive education, as well as, initiatives that aim to convert refugees into members of the Scottish community. However, the cultural differences of Syria and Scotland would need to be accounted for, while considering the long-term needs and expectations from the education system of Scotland. Teacher education and training has been identified as critical components for implementation of inclusive pedagogy. Therefore, while policies are developed for increasing inclusion, simultaneously teacher education policies need to be revised. This could ensure that the outcomes set at a system-level are met at a pedagogical level, and thus the needs of the child are addressed in a holistic manner.


  • College Development Network. (2017). Excellence for All: Equality, diversity and inclusion in the curriculum.

  • Gower, M., & Cromarty, H. (2016). Syrian refugees and the UK. House of Commons Library, (6805), 15.

  • Save the Children. (2015). The Cost of War: Calculating the impact of the collapse of Syria’s education system on Syria’s future.

  • Scottish Government. (2017). New Scots: Integrating Refugees in Scotland’s Communities 2014 – 2017.

  • Sirin, S., & Rogers-Sirin, L. (2015). The Educational and Mental Health Need of Syrian Refugee Children.

  • Spratt, J., & Florian, L. (2015). Inclusive pedagogy: From learning to action. Supporting each individual in the context of “everybody.” Teaching and Teacher Education, 49, 89–96.

  • Strang, A., & Ager, A. (2010). Refugee integration: Emerging trends and remaining agendas. Journal of Refugee Studies, 23(4), 589–607.

451 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

SIDA Spring Conference 2024

By Elena Kerr Scotland’s International Development Alliance held an insightful, engaging, and inspiring spring conference on the 16th of April 2024, where the main focus surrounded how to ‘shift power

bottom of page