Insights from a critical policy analysis of the field of refugee education in Australia

Year: 2018

Author: Johnson, Bruce, Baak, Melanie, Sullivan, Anna, Slee, Roger

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Internationally, responses to refugees have fluctuated due to complex historical and political factors.  There is a need to contextualise research into refugee education to better understand how and why schools and schooling systems have responded to students from refugee backgrounds in the ways they have. Consequently, an analysis of existing sources of knowledge and insight was undertaken to ‘help gain a better understanding of policy changes, conditions and results’ (Diem, et al., 2014, p. 1072) in relation to the education of students from refugee backgrounds in Australia. Of interest, were the policy directives and associated rationales that have framed the field of refugee education in Australia over the past 5 years.
Forming policies is contingent, complex and inconsistent. Policies are multidimensional, have many stakeholders, are value laden, and are intricately interwoven or in tension with other policies.  Policy-making is never straightforward. In this paper, we provide an overview of the refugee education policy terrain in Australia, then present a more detailed interrogation of several key policies using a critical policy analysis rubric derived from the work of Diem et al., (2014), Bacchi (2012) and Ball (2008). The analysis addressed questions such as:
1. What is the history of the policy?
2. What problem does the policy intend to solve?
3. What policy tools and processes were used to embed the policy in practice?
4. Under the policy, who gets what, when and how?
5. In what ways does the policy affect inequality and privilege?
The analysis revealed that the policy terrain about the education of students from refugee backgrounds is mostly:

dominated by psychological thinking that justifies therapeutic ‘interventions’ to ‘fix’ the problems of students from refugee backgrounds caused by exposure to trauma and torture, lack of literacy in a first language, unfamiliarity with English, and interrupted schooling;
lacking sophisticated analyses of the socio-political issues and processes which continue to racialise and exclude students from refugee backgrounds;
influenced by neo-liberal practices that shift responsibility for refugee student resettlement and inclusion from governments to underfunded schools, and poorly resourced community groups; and
affected by dominant, negative public and political narratives about refugees.

Bacchi (2012) Why Study Problematizations? Making Politics Visible. Open Journal of Political Science, 2(1), 1-8.
Ball (2008) The Education Debate. Bristol, The Policy Press.
Diem, Young, Welton, Mansfield & Lee (2014) The intellectual landscape of critical policy analysis, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 27:9, 1068-1090.