Refugee youth and education
: aspirations and obstacles in England

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis focuses on how young refugees and their families encounter the English education system. Young refugees are entitled to education in England; however, the United Kingdom has no specific educational policy focusing on their needs. This research is concerned with how young refugees experience schooling and the extent that (im)migration regulation affects their educational experiences and aspirations. Employing a critical perspective using Critical Race Theory, Critical Pedagogy and the concept of Funds of Knowledge, I investigated young refugees’ education while addressing the ‘neutrality’ and ahistoricism of refugee education literature. I endeavoured to develop CARE – a theoretical framework that argues for an antiracist approach to refugee people’s education and lifelong learning. CARE, as a critical and antiracist framework, served to analyse the link between Britain’s colonial history and the coloniality of education, (im)migration laws and integrationist policies.

Guided by an ethics of care, I concentrated two years building access and relationships with refugee learners and staff at Mountain View High School, a secondary school in the South of England. Covid-19 regulations obstructed research plans and implemented remote schooling in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, my reliable connections with refugee families and staff at the school allowed me to adapt this research to work directly with refugee families. I utilised critical ethnography and elements of participatory and arts-based methods to conduct an 8-month-long qualitative study. I conducted semi-structured interviews with young refugees and their families online and in person when conditions allowed. Refugee-background participants created art to convey their experiences and then participated in the data analysis of their artwork. Subsequently, I did classroom observations and interviewed key staff members and two young refugee students at Mountain View High School.

Research findings indicated that young refugees face various challenges in accessing education and thriving in England’s schooling system. Education is vital for young refugees and their families; however, new challenges arise after young people enrol in school. Mothers face barriers in supporting their children and getting involved in their education. Schools appear to lack specific policies to support refugee families, opting for a universal approach that invisibilises students’ needs. Nevertheless, I found the school is a contested space where young people may encounter supportive educators and appropriate learning support.
Date of Award9 May 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorLeon P Tikly (Supervisor) & Julia Paulson (Supervisor)


  • Education
  • Refugees
  • Asylum-seekers
  • England
  • Families & Parenting

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