Best Practice 26

Peer-Learning Activity (PLA )

Newly arrived migrants and refugees children

The Stockholm PLA particularly focused on the relative advantages and disadvantages of separate ‘introductory classes’ for recently arrived migrant school children, as distinct from structured support for newly arrived migrant children in regular classes.

The PLA was framed by three overarching questions:

1. How is the reception of newly arrived children organized? What type of support do newly arrived migrants need? How should ‘reaching out’ to parents / families be organized?

2. What sort of assessment should be undertaken to place these learners at the right level and in the appropriate grade?

3. How should education be organized to create the best possible preconditions for newly arrived children to develop their knowledge and skills and integrate better? In particular, how should the development of knowledge and skills be organized in parallel with language learning?

As initiator of the PLA, Sweden has seen the arrival of a significant number of migrants and refugees following the Syria crisis. At the total 162,877 asylum seekers arrived in 2015, including 70 384 children of school age. This has presented particular challenges for the education system, which are documented in the 2015 special OECD country report6. The Swedish context provide a very useful starting point to frame the PLA concept development

Introductory classes or direct integration

It was obvious from the discussions that the pros and cons of introductory classes versus direct integration into normal classes was a living discussion in all the countries that participated in the activity. Sweden introduced a regulatory framework for introductory classes from 01.01.2016. The legislation states that placement in introductory classes should be based on an individual assessment and not be prolonged longer than necessary (with a maximum of two years).

The Swedish “Introductory classes or direct integration“ emphasis the importance that newly arrived children’s learning is not “put on hold” which is a threat when focusing solely on the acquisition of the language of the host country. There is no reason why a newly arrived child should not continue to learn mathematics or other subjects just because they also are learning a new language. Proper diagnostic tests focusing on students’ strengths are needed. Regardless of the organizational model – introductory classes, direct immersion or a mix of the two – it is important to provide a high level of cognitive challenge combined with a high level of support. In summary the following aspects seems important:

    • Flexibility in the system combining local organizational freedom and national legislation
    • Proper diagnostic tests focusing on students’ strengths as well
    • Continuous pedagogical and social support based on needs and not bureaucratic categories
    • High level of cognitive challenge combined with a high level of support
    • Carefully prepared transition to ordinary class
    • Communication and cooperation between major stake-holders, specially between different teacher categories (SSL, subject, mother tongue and mother tongue study guidance )
    • Cooperation with parents and local community


The Swedish National Centre for Swedish as a Second Language

 (  The center presented their experiences and an example of a whole school approach that had a very strong positive effect in numerous schools. The Centre is financed by the Government and placed at the Stockholm University. The staff consists of 14 people and their main objective is to be a link between school practice and the scientific community. They also help to implement reforms, cooperate with different stake holders, build networks, facilitate professional development and inform and influence policy making. An important arena to communicate with teachers and other professionals is social media. The center has identified conditions for successful integration of newly arrived students’. It is important to acknowledge that newly arrived students are facing a multiple challenge: learning a new language and learning through the language. Newly arrived students have to be responsibility of the whole school – school leaders, all teachers, and all staff. The language of schooling tuition is important, but it is not only the responsibility of the specialized teachers. All teachers to adapt their teaching so that it is understandable for all pupils.

The Centre presented an example of best practice where they had worked together with the small municipality Hultsfred in the south-eastern part of Sweden. The municipality have around 14.000 inhabitants, and in 2015 was number three in Sweden concerning the number of asylum seekers per inhabitant. The municipality had identified that they had low educational outcomes and a lack of teachers and above all competence. Their student population includes many Swedish as a second language learners and students with low socio-economic background. The municipality contacted the National Centre and they concluded a deeper analysis of the municipality and devised a whole system approach to the situation that involved all stakeholders. At the center of the project was in-service training for all staff with high challenges, and high levels of support. The in-service training targeted the success factors mentioned above, and for teachers there were a special focus on a content and language integrated approach to teaching. The in-service training was organized as six days during a year with tasks such as, reading, writing, trying out new ways of working, reflections/discussions in between the days. The effect has been very positive and teachers from surrounding municipalities are now applying to be able to work in schools in Hultsfred as a result of the intervention.

Mother tongue tuition

Sweden, where mother tongue is considered as an important asset and a right, provided some solutions. The Education Act states that pupils of compulsory school and upper secondary school are entitled to study their mother tongue, if they have at least one parent with another mother tongue than Swedish and this language is spoken on a daily basis at home, usually around one hour per week. It was acknowledged that it is difficult to implement this right for less common languages. The municipality is not obliged to arrange mother tongue tuition if there is less than five students using a language or if there is no teacher with relevant language capabilities available. However, online resources are currently being developed. There are already a lot of support materials available, for example a website in 14 different languages (more in the future) about the functioning of Swedish education system


☒  Language Training

☒ Intercultural communication

Country: Sweden

City: Uppsala, Stockholm, Malmö, Göteborg, Sundsvall, Umeå, Västerås, Örebro

The Swedish National Centre for Swedish as a Second Language-

Mother tongue tuition

Non applicable