Press release: REFUGE-ED will improve academic performance, emotional wellbeing and social integration for refugee children and unaccompanied minors.

Press release: REFUGE-ED will improve academic performance, emotional wellbeing and social integration for refugee children and unaccompanied minors.

Press release: REFUGE-ED will improve academic performance, emotional wellbeing and social integration for refugee children and unaccompanied minors.

Schools, parents and communities will be actively involved in choosing and implementing the actions that best fit their needs.

Since 2015 Europe has experienced its largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Many of the refugees arriving in Europe are children and unaccompanied minors. The children have suffered displacement, separation from loved ones, and – very often – exposure to violence. Making sure the children and youth have access to quality education and a protective learning environment is key to restore their emotional security and sense of place. In this context, the European Union supports research to overcome integration challenges for migrant children.

The educational and social systems in Europe often do not have the tools to tackle the social, emotional, and educational challenges that child refugees and unaccompanied minors tend to struggle with. Research can contribute some of these challenges.

Funded by the European Union, the REFUGE-ED project aims at fostering socially inclusive, supportive learning environments for refugee children, unaccompanied minors and the hosting communities. To do this the REFUGE-ED project works with an evidence-based approach identifying successful practices in education and mental health and psychosocial support that have proven positive social impact. In close collaboration with educators, students, parents and communities, the research team explores how these practices can be adapted and scaled to meet the specific local needs at any educational institution in the European Union.

In education, practise is too often based on assumptions and prejudice, which stands in the way of providing high quality education. For years we have worked in the development and identification of educational practises that have a scientifically proven impact. One of the things we know from our research is that the more the educators, children and their families have access to these scientifically proven successful practices, and the more they are involved in selecting, adapting and participating in their implementation, the better outcome we can expect.” explains Dr. Teresa Sorde Martí, coordinator of the REFUGE-ED project and professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. “For this reason, scientific evidence and dialogic co-creation is at the core of everything we do in the project.”

We know that there is a strong connection between learning, emotional wellbeing and social belonging. For refugee children and unaccompanied minors these factors become particularly important. Many have a disrupted education, are suffering the mental health consequences of their experiences before, during and after their flight and are struggling to find their feet in a new country, community and culture. When schools work with both the academic, social and mental health aspect of education in a community-based way and based on what science indicates that works, we have a powerful potential to help a lot of children improve their lives”, adds Dr. Leslie Snider, director of the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Collaborative, Save the Children, Denmark.

46 schools, institutional care facilities and reception centres in Spain, Italy, Greece, Ireland, Sweden, and Bulgaria will implement these successful practises. At each site, educators, children and families will choose the practices they find most relevant and work together to adapt and scale them to their specific needs.

The project team participates in and evaluate the processes to be able to share the learning with the wider educational community through a platform launched at the end of the project. This platform will provide all the knowledge and training necessary to roll out the practices for enhancing educational success, emotional wellbeing and a sense of belonging at any European school.

The REFUGE-ED consortium brings together nine research institutions and non-government organisations located in six countries. Their combined expertise includes migration studies, education, mental health and psychosocial support, humanitarian, and social field work. The project activities will cover the 2021-2023 period.

For further information:

Teresa Sordé Marti, Autonomous University of Barcelona,


In the REFUGE-ED project, the consortium will draw on its expertise in the fields of education and mental health and psychosocial support to implement successful educational actions to achieve:

  • Catalogue of existing effective practices targeted at the promotion of integration, academic success and inclusion, wellbeing, and social belonging of refugee and asylum seeker children.
  • Procedure for involving all actors in each pilot setting in co-creation to choose the best action and methodology in each setting.
  • Implementation, follow-up and monitoring of the selected pilot actions in the different settings / countries.
  • Toolkit for evaluation of outcomes and process evaluation as well as a data management system, which can be used across the pilot actions sites.
  • Brokering Knowledge Platform for end-users and stakeholders and a transnational European community of learning and practise will also
  • Exploitation of the co-created effective practices to new settings across formal, informal and non-formal education.
The partners in the consortium are:
  • Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona – Spain (coordinator);
  • Università degli Studi di Firenze – Italy;
  • Centre for European Refugees, Migration and Ethnic Studies, New Bulgarian University – Bulgaria;
  • Family and Childcare Centre (KMOP) – Greece;
  • Trinity Centre for Global Health – Ireland;
  • The MHPSS Collaborative – Denmark;
  • International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Psychosocial Centre – Denmark;
  • Support Group Network – Sweden;
  • Cooperazione Internazionale Sud Sud – Italy.


Education, mental wellbeing and belonging are essential for children’s development. Refugees and asylum seekers are no exception. For them, even more is at stake: their chance to become integrated into their new country and community.



Identifying effective mental health and psychosocial support practices

Identifying effective mental health and psychosocial support practices

Mapping mental health and psychosocial support practices

“It’s a jungle out there” is a phrase familiar to many educators – sometimes thinking of the situation in the playground, but often of the massive amount of teaching materials, approaches, systems, and traditions suggesting different ways to increase the academic success, well-being, and social belonging of their students. Identifying the most effective of these practices can be a challenge.

REFUGE-ED aims to identify and promote effective practices within education and mental health and psychosocial support for migrant and refugee children, including unaccompanied minors.

An extensive literature review has looked at practices within both education and mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), where evidence of social impact has been identified. The effective practice is defined through the requirement of solid evidence (quantitative and/or qualitative) of the social impact achieved by the respective practice, both in education and MHPSS. The social impact required from these practices had to reflect the improvement in at least one of the following dimensions related to migrant students to be considered for its inclusion in the catalogue: academic success, well-being and/or social belonging.

Within the field of mental health and psychosocial support five categories were identified:

  • Creating a safe space
  • Building capacity among school staff
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Expressive therapy
  • Psychological staff in schools


Creating a safe space

Feeling safe is fundamental to academic success, wellbeing, and social belonging. Establishing a safe space in a school or other educational setting is not a formal and defined intervention or programme. It is an approach in which conscious effort is put into making the school environment feel safe and concerns the physical environment as well as the values and overall running of the school.

‘Safe’ schools are likely to help to improve student outcomes across a wide range of domains, including:

  • Improved academic performance.
  • Reduced feelings of exclusion
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Fewer problems with school personnel
  • Greater sense of belonging at school
  • Increased social-emotional competencies.

Building capacity among school staff

Building capacity among school staff to support students’ mental health and psychosocial well-being is important for sustainability. Programmes which are integrated in the mainstream curriculum and delivered by school staff are more likely to be effective in terms of long-term student outcomes than activities delivered by outside experts.

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy treatment usually involves efforts to change thinking patterns. Strategies might include using problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations and learning to develop a greater sense of confidence in one’s own abilities.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is based on the concept that thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap a person into a vicious cycle. It aims to help deal with overwhelming problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts.
Trained school staff (e.g., school mental health professionals, trained teachers, nurses) or external mental health professionals (e.g., non-school psychologists, social workers) use therapeutic approaches outlined in an intervention protocol to engage with students in individual or group settings.

Expressive therapy

Art, music, and dance are forms of creative expression that can help individuals to process and cope with emotional issues. Arts and music therapy is a way to reconstruct meaning and, work with traumatic experiences and retell stories, address grief and loss and rebuild social connections.
There is increasing evidence that creative arts therapies can address distress not otherwise accessible to more traditional talking therapies, which rely on higher level cognitive development. For the purposes of this article, we have categorised these practices as ‘expressive therapy’.

Psychological staff in schools

School psychology is concerned with children, youth, families, and the schooling process. School psychologists are prepared to intervene at the individual and system levels, and develop, implement, and evaluate programmes to promote positive learning environments for children and youth from diverse backgrounds, and to ensure equal access to effective educational and psychological services that promote health development.
Distinct from building capacity amongst teachers and other school staff, this approach involves implementation of direct psychological/psychosocial interventions from trained mental health professionals such as counsellors, nurses trained in mental health, and school psychologists. The literature review revealed that there are a range of principles that such professionals should bear in mind when working with migrant and refugee children.

Busting myths in education leads to better results

Busting myths in education leads to better results

Busting myths in education leads to better results

In education, practice is too often based on myths and assumptions – “edumyths rather than scientific evidence leading to low quality teaching.

But when edumyths are replaced by scientific evidence of social impact, international research shows improvement in results (Transforming students’ attitudes towards learning through the use of successful educational actions (, 2019).

These improvements can have a strong social impact. Basing education on principles that have proven positive social impact is an essential step towards equity in education. Equity in education, according to UNESCO “involves reducing disparities based on sex, poverty, place of residence, ethnicity, language and other characteristics”.

A strong edumyth is that schools in the lowest socio-economic settings, with a large proportion of students coming from poor immigrant families of different origin will have low academic results. But that does not have to be the case. Research shows that when education programmes are based on methods that have a proven social impact and teachers have received adequate training in using them, these schools obtain the same results in mathematics, language, and other subjects as the average of their country and even than the average of the centers of higher socio-economic levels. At the same time, they show better co-existence with the surrounding community than comparable schools. This is not an exception or a coincidence, but the result of scientific training of the highest level that can be provided. (Turning difficulties into possibilities: engaging Roma families and students in school through dialogic learning (

As a sample, you can see what they have achieved at the Joaquim Ruyra Public School in Barcelona in the following video. The Joaquim Ruyra Public School has been included as one of the sites where fieldwork for the REFUG-ED project will be conducted in the next months.

In 2011 the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research published a list of the 10 most successful European research projects. It included an investigation of social sciences and humanities, which concluded that educational centers of low socioeconomic level that implemented practices based on scientific evidence obtained extraordinary improvements in results: The General Directorate of Education has since published European Toolkit for Schools (, including, among others, practices based on scientific evidence of social impact.

It begins with education of teachers

Universities and teacher’s colleges can play a key role in this needed turn by equipping education professionals with evidence of social impact published in scientific journals. When professionals trained go to schools with low socioeconomic status and families, they may expect their students to have low results as well. And indeed, some of them do, because it is a fatally self-fulfilling prophecy. Teaching future educators to distinguish between practices based on myths and practices based on evidence will ensure vast improvements in the students they teach.

Proven social impact takes evidence to the next level

As the EU Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon Europe and other international research programmes have shown, there is a clear difference between scientific evidence and demonstrated social impact (Besselaar et. al., 2018).  Scientific evidence is indeed important. However, improving professional practice requires of scientific evidence that has already demonstrated social impact. For example, a study can scientifically describe inequalities in academic achievement between two groups of children. This is important knowledge that points to a problem that must be addressed. But beyond knowing about the underlying conditions that are creating such situation of inequalities it is necessary to also have knowledge about which practices can overcome these inequalities.

Scientific evidence is important, but before it becomes a valuable contribution to improve practice in education, it also needs to demonstrate its social impact. Scientific evidence of social impact is what tells us which practices improve student results and which do not. In addition, they also make their limitations clear and tell us which ones work well in a certain type of center or context and which ones obtain improvements in any context in which they are rigorously implemented.

This is a translated and edited version of an article originally published in:

Successful Educational Actions

Successful Educational Actions

Successful Educational Actions

The REFUGE-ED project collects knowledge on innovative solutions in education and mental health and psychosocial support. The first step is a mapping process of good evidence-based educational solutions with proven social impact.

But what does a successful educational action look like?

In 2011 the European research project INCLUD-ED identified and analyzed a series of practices that have showed to increase academic performance and improve coexistence and caring attitudes in all the schools that participated in the project. These practices are called Successful Educational Actions (SEA). INCLUDE-ED identified a very important factor about Successful Educational Actions: they work in any educational and social context. They are universal.

The results of this study, carried out in 14 European countries, have already been included in the guidelines and recommendations of the European Parliament to overcome school failure and inequality in education.
The basic principles which constitute a Successful Educational Action (SEA) are:

  1. The action generates greater improvements in academic results of the whole student body.
  2. They are transferable to diverse contexts. This means that irrespective of where they are applied, they achieve positive results.
  3. It has been applied in scientific research which includes the voices of everybody involved in the educational community.
  4. It has been endorsed in publications of the scientific community.

Please read on for examples of successful educational actions identified in INCLUD-ED.

Interactive groups

Interactive groups are a form of classroom organization that produces better student achievement and better social cohesion. The class is organized in four heterogeneous groups of students, each of them promoting learning interactions by one adult, who is a volunteer from the community or the families of the students.

How do Interactive Groups work?

  • The teacher prepares four 15-minute activities for the groups and briefly explains these to the volunteers. They attend to individual needs.
  • The children change from one activity to the other every 15 minutes until all children have completed the four activities.
  • Volunteers from the community facilitate learning interactions between the children.
  • The critical factor is that the children do the activities by talking and explaining them to each other.


  • More dynamic and participative classrooms.
  • Guaranteed learning for all students (ZPD); High expectations are created; Context transformation.
  • More personalised education: the teacher is attentive to the needs of each person in the classroom.
  • Reorganised or increased human resources
  • High levels of attention and better use of time.
  • Children develop an attitude of solidarity improving co-existence in the class.
  • Families’ and communities’ cultural intelligence is capitalised upon in the classroom.Content goes here
Learn more about interactive groups on SchoolEducation Gateway

Dialogic Literary Gatherings

A dialogic literary gathering is a reading activity for the whole class. The children read a classic text, such as The Odyssey, at home, and come to school having chosen one idea from the text to share with their classmates. Through dialogue chaired by a moderator (usually the teacher), they co-construct the meaning of the text, and discuss its relevance for their lives today.

How do Dialogic Literary Gatherings work?

  • At home, the students have read an agreed number of pages and selected a paragraph or an idea to share with the class.
  • The moderator/teacher gives each child a turn to talk and ensures the inclusion of all voices in an egalitarian dialogue in which the teacher, most of the time, listens, invites the next child to speak, and does not evaluate the children’s ideas.
  • The children draw on their ‘funds of knowledge’ from home and community in their dialogue, and in so doing, they discuss deep and difficult issues, such as life, death, fidelity, loyalty, etc.
  • The critical factor is that the children explain and justify their arguments in the dialogue. The teacher listens, chairs and may participate on an equal basis with the children.


  • Dialogic reading (reading mediated by varying voices, experiences, and cultures, that changes from an individual to a collective experience) generates an understanding of a text which can never occur reading alone.
  • Increases vocabulary, improves oral expression, comprehension, critical thinking, reasoning skills (with validity claims).
  • Inspires discussion of difficult topics concerned with citizenship and life dilemmas initiated by the children.
  • The classic text bridges social gaps and empowers (especially) the less privileged social groups, in reading literature thought of as for the elite.
Learn more about Dialogic literary gatherings on SchoolEducation Gateway

Educative Participation of the Community

It is a way of participation in which families and individuals in the community become both part of the school learning activities, as well as contribute to the school decision-making.

How does Educative participation of the community work?

  • Families, volunteers, and social agents are involved in the learning activities of the classroom through the SEAs, extending learning time and in the management of the school through mixed commissions.


  • It has a beneficial impact on the students’ attainment and coexistence.
  • It changes school culture and relationships between families and teachers guaranteeing that all voices are heard.
  • Improves the management of the school
Learn more about educative participation of the community on SchoolEducation Gateway

Family Education

Family education opens the school to the families to improve their instrumental education – i.e. improve their skills in subjects where they can support their children’s education, such as language, information and communication technology or mathematics.

How does family education work?

  • Families propose what they want to learn and when this would be possible.
  • People in the community and volunteers are sought to provide this training.
  • Normally a mixed commission is in charge of organizing the various trainings.
  • Language, ICT, Literacy, Mathematics trainings are prioritized.


  • Direct impact on academic improvement of students.
  • Increases the skills and job opportunities for adults increasing their confidence.
  • Increases possibilities for parents to help their children with their homework, creating new meaning about learning and education.
  • Increases expectations regarding parent´s future and the future of their children by increasing the motivation to continue studying.
  • Bonds of understanding and tolerance between families and families and schools are created, prejudices are removed.
Learn more about family education on SchoolEducation Gateway

Dialogic pedagogical education for teachers

It is about going right to the source, to the international scientific community, and building knowledge together regarding the best educational theories.

How does Dialogic pedagogical education for teachers work?

  • Teachers are trained and updated based on theories that the international scientific community supports.
  • This study, research and access to the latest knowledge is done with others, thus facilitating motivation.
  • The most effective strategy for this is by using Dialogical Pedagogical Gatherings


  • Improves the professional practice and therefore the learning of students (parameter for evaluating teacher education)
  • Adds more meaning to teaching and improves motivation
  • The egalitarian dialogue establishes new and better relations among the teaching staff.
  • Arguments based on research are developed by teachers to explain their practices in front of the administration, family, community. Assumptions and prejudices are overcome.
Learn more about Dialogic pedagogical education for teachers on SchoolEducation Gateway

Dialogic conflict prevention and resolution model

It is a model that overcomes the disciplinary mediator models through dialogue with and participation of the whole community.

How does the Dialogic conflict prevention and resolution model work?

  • By creating opportunities for equalitarian dialogue: assemblies, meetings, classroom spaces etc.
  • By constructing and creating school rules together.
  • By addressing through different areas preventive socialization of gender violence.


  • Improves learning because students feel the school is a safe place free from violence.
  • Improves coexistence and relationships inside and outside the school environment
  • Helps prevent gender violence.
  • This model enhances procedural ethic and deliberative democracy. Learning that the effectiveness and validity of agreements is not only about the ‘what’ but also about ‘how’ we reach those agreements; and it is about making decisions by consensus.
Learn more about the Dialogic conflict prevention and resolution model on SchoolEducation Gateway

Links for further consultation:

Learning Communities project (website in Portuguese and Spanish). Learning communities are schools that implement SEA 

Projects that implemented SEA, funded under the European Framework Programmes for Research and Innovation

INCLUD-ED. Strategies for inclusion and social cohesion in Europe from education
Enlarge SEAS 


Learning from what works

Learning from what works

Learning from what works

There are already many tools for education and mental health and psychosocial well-being available. In fact, a major challenge in education is choosing the right ones – because how do you know if a tool works for your purpose or not? And how do you, as an educator, find time to research and test in an already busy workday?

REFUGE-ED is working on identifying existing solutions that have already shown good results and make them scalable and available.

At the end of the project, a so-called “brokering knowledge platform” will be available for all who have an interest in the well-being and integration of refugee and migrant children. The platform will feature a number of good educational tools that can be used to enhance education and MHPSS well-being for refugee and asylum seeker children in different formal, informal and non-formal education. It’s important that the users of the platform can feel certain that the tools made available by the project are based on evidence and have proven social impact.

For this reason, the first step in the project is to “map and identify best-practice tools and solutions in evidence-based MHPSS and education for formal, non-formal and informal learning environments”.

In this work we will frame the scope of the project and identify practices from both the field of education and mental health and psychosocial support.

The solutions we are looking for, contribute to the successful integration of refugee and asylum seeker children in schools and in broader society. The overarching criterion is that there is solid quantitative and/or qualitative evidence that the solution enhances academic learning, mental health and psychosocial wellbeing and a sense of belonging.

From January to September 2021, the University of Firenze leads the mapping work, which focuses on both the fields of education and MHPSS.

We will conduct a review and analysis of the scientific literature and policy documents on migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking children and unaccompanied minors at the EU/national levels. The aim is to identify effective and socially innovative practices and policies targeted at the promotion of academic success, well-being, and social belonging in the field of MHPSS and education.

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