This study tries to understand how schools apply existing policies for the reception of immigrant students. Using a combination of discursive, organizational, and ethnographic research techniques, it tries to discern to what extent these practices conform to policies, and to what extent they diverge from them in basic principles. The study applies a comparison of the Netherlands and Spain and particularly Barcelona and Rotterdam, two cases which are very different in their national policies of integration, educational systems and programs for educational reception.
The findings show the existence of a very significant gap between policies and practices in both cases. Schools in Rotterdam and Barcelona apply implementation practices which contradict the official goals of national integration policies and of reception programs. Educational systems, on the other hand, do matter for practices. Moreover, the gap between school practices and policies differs for each local case. In Barcelona the gap is larger, and responds mainly to the need to cope with the situation. In Rotterdam, school practices are in general more compliant with the reception program, but schools also deviate sometimes from policies trying to improve students’ educational opportunities. The main differences between the two cases can be associated with their different local institutional frameworks, that constrain in important ways teachers’ practices.
The study shows the relevance of the local field as a framework for practices of policy implementation. Institutional arrangements influence practices to a varying extent in different cases, therefore it is crucial to research which contextual conditions favor compliance or discretion.
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