London Metropolitan University Research Institutes

Lost in migration: barriers to the social integration of first generation immigrant students in Irish second level education

Author(s) O'Connor, S.  
Publisher London: CiCe  
Year 2014  
Editor P. Cunningham & N. Fretwell (eds.) Innovative Practice and Research Trends in Identity, Citizenship and Education  
Age group -  
Ireland experienced unprecedented growth in immigration from circa 1993 to 2011 which resulted in greater linguistic and ethnic diversity in Irish schools. This paper is part of a doctoral study which investigated the experiences of first generation children of migrants in second level education by focussing on the central issue of the need for immigrant students to experience academic and social integration and the obligation of the state, school management and teachers to support their overall integration and educational wellbeing. The author examines how inadequate English language support, racist bullying and systemic inequality become barriers to the social integration of immigrant students. A case study on the lived experiences of first generation migrant students in a large second level urban school was carried out over the three year period of fieldwork, from 2009 to 2012. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with in-school and out-of-school educational personnel and focus group discussions were organised with first generation immigrant student groups. Part of the findings demonstrated that migrant children were subjected to comments and taunts of a xenophobic, racist and intolerant nature. This behaviour, perpetuated by a small number of students from the majority culture, was persistent and impacted negatively on immigrant student wellbeing, influenced their socialisation patterns and contributed towards clustering of students in own nationality or in mixed immigrant student groupings. Measures to tackle xenophobic and racist bullying were implicitly contained in the school’s anti-bullying policy. However, the activation of the anti-bullying strategies was contingent on reporting by other students, school personnel, parents or the targets of the bullying. Findings showed that xenophobic and racist bullying mainly occurred away from the observation of school personnel was mostly unreported and resulted in exclusion. Inadequate state support contributes to inequality of opportunity and immigrant student exclusion. State cutbacks to English language support, pupil-teacher ratio and middle management positions in an age of austerity, has resulted in the perpetuation of disadvantage. The discussion on inequality is framed by Bourdieu’s concept of social and cultural capital.

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