Aims & Background


world.jpgRefugee background students entering Australian high schools have been found to experience significant challenges because of low levels of English language acquisition and literacy, interrupted schooling, and difficulties adjusting to school and life in a new country (Brown, Miller & Mitchell, 2006). For example, recent research has demonstrated that school completion rates for refugee students are significantly lower (62%) than for other Australians (86%) (Correa-Velez et al., 2016; Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2015). Much of the research into the schooling of refugee background students emphasises their problems and the challenges they face (Brown, Miller & Mitchell, 2006) and adopts deficit understandings of students from refugee backgrounds. There is emerging research (Keddie, 2017; Pugh, et al., 2012) which focuses on the role of schools in fostering supportive and inclusive environments to meet the diverse needs of refugee students. However, this research has yet to examine the importance of policies and school practices that promote refugee student resilience. By focussing on ‘resilience’, the study will examine the processes and outcomes of successful refugee student adaptation and coping, despite their exposure to challenging and threatening circumstances (Masten, Best & Garmezy, 1990, p. 425).


This critical policy study aims to:

  1. build new knowledge of refugee background students’ ‘success’ at school, by investigating the relationships between education policies and school practices that promote refugee student resilience. 
  2. investigate the policies, practices, relationships, and events that shape the schooling experiences of refugee students with a specific focus on the ways in which these foster resilience and, in turn, success at school. 

The project addresses the following research questions:

  1.  What are the current federal and state policies guiding the provision of refugee education in Australia?
  2. How do school leaders interpret and enact federal and state policies when developing local school policies and practices in order to enhance the resilience of students from refugee backgrounds? 
  3. What aspects of school life do refugee background students believe promote their resilience, wellbeing and success at school?
  4. What combination of research dissemination strategies have the most impact on teachers, school leaders, policy makers and researchers working in the field of refugee education?

Drawing on ideas from socio-cultural studies of student resilience, critical policy studies and inclusive education, this study will develop an understanding of the complex and intersecting ways in which school and policy environments shape refugee student resilience. This research will contribute to broader understandings of refugee education through a specific focus on the policies and school contexts that promote refugee student resilience.