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Coventry Schools of Sanctuary at the Cathedral

The Coventry Ethnic Minority Achievement Service and head teachers gathered together on January 21 to launch the Schools of Sanctuary award. They were welcomed for the Schools of Sanctuary event by the Reverend Canon Kathryn Fleming to Coventry’s iconic Cathedral in the City of Peace and Reconciliation.

Leanne Cameron of EMAS introduced the day and Colleen Molloy of City of Sanctuary gave an account of the Schools of Sanctuary award. She described it as a useful school improvement tool supporting the welcome, integration and inclusion of new arrivals. The simple processes of the Learn, Embed and Share framework provided rich opportunities for curriculum development and promotion of the student voice and active citizenship. It helps schools fulfil their statutory obligations under the Equality Act and provides evidence for OFSTED inspections. She also described how Birmingham Schools of Sanctuary made an important contribution to the development of training materials by Birmingham City University for use across Europe through the ERASMUS Open Door Open Schools project.

Coventry was just one of 8 local authorities who lead on Schools of Sanctuary Awards. After extensive consultation, updated guidelines and minimum criteria for the Schools of Sanctuary Award are now available on the website and outlined in a new resource pack to be published in the next few weeks.

Schools have a wealth of community resources – local people, local history, refugee support organisations – British Red Cross, Amnesty, Show Racism the Red Card, City of Sanctuary and others who could help introduce them to people seeking sanctuary who are the experts by experience to support learning.  She gave examples of embedding in the curriculum as well as in three-year development plans. Schools of Sanctuary could support others by creating opportunities to share and promote best practice at local network meetings.

Tony Soni, Director of Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre then provided a background to the needs of people seeking sanctuary and other migrants in Coventry. The centre met a range of needs that arise as a consequence of the harshness of the asylum process.

Paul Green Chair of the Secondary Head Teachers Committee and head teacher at Lyng Hall School then shared some of their trauma informed practice. This included unrelenting positivism, no shouting or negative language and lots of smiling. It is common for children seeking sanctuary to be still suffering from trauma and addressing this is vital to behaviour and language development. The school is working on a project with UNICEF and other Coventry schools to develop a network on the education of refugees to share good practice.

Tom Leverage Executive Principal of Cardinal Wiseman School then spoke of the challenges and achievements whilst looking to the future. Building on their values of knowledge, ambition, respect and resilience the school of 36 languages had a range of strategies to support welcome and inclusion. They were developing bespoke courses in smaller settings, improving pastoral support, investing in teaching English and promoting the value of home languages at GCSE level. The school organised enrichment trips and other activities celebrating the wealth of talents which the pupils bring with them including their warmth, energy, aspirations and joy. The school was proud to have a zero rated NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) school. The school ensure that all pupils progressed to either employment or further education and training.

Paul Kearns, Deputy CEO of Show Racism the Red Card talked passionately about how racism was a societal problem and not just in football but in our schools, streets, and workplaces. The educational focus of Show Racism the Red Card working with young people resonated with the meeting and the Schools of Sanctuary vision.  Paul engaged the meeting with posters showing support for the no to racism message from high profile people and Premier football teams and some short videos of their work were shown including Recipe for Success – a poem performed by schoolchildren inspired by Benjamin Zephaniah. The films and other resources were part of an educational pack which could be found on their website at They also offer teacher training and hate crime workshops.

Paul gave a passionate account of how media headlines and the impartial focus of reporting media aggravated racism and the importance of overcoming this. The programme had reached over 50,000 young people and 6,000 adults at educational events usually at football clubs. He referred to their sense of empowerment being awakened and how their work had encouraged young people’s passion to speak out against racism. Schools were invited to engage with the national schools competition which is the largest equalities themed competition in the UK. It provides educational resources at different levels and is free to enter with 8 categories. The awards are held at a high profile venue.

Emily Churchill Zaraa, the Refugee Week UK coordinator described Refugee Week as an opportunity to celebrate diverse communities and welcome for refugees. Refugee Week is an annual arts, cultural and educational Festival through which activities help to understand and explain the experiences of people seeking sanctuary and to build a culture of welcome. There were 800 events in 2019 reaching new audiences and bringing communities together in positive spaces. Examples included the Coventry Welcomes Festival and the Royal Shakespeare Company exploring Shakespeare’s take on refugees.

Other examples of major Arts projects for Refugee Week in 2019 were the comedy stand-up “No Direction Home” and the Portrait Project – “You Me and Those who Came Before”.  Emily emphasised how children can connect with refugee experiences in a direct way and how using poetry, drama and other activities to learn about what it means to be a refugee have developed and enriched the curriculum.  Emily described the Norfolk Welcomes Arts Project  in collaboration with more than 70 Norwich schools. Another School of Sanctuary – Glebelands Primary in Leicester had a week long programme including refugee speakers and an art project with local people seeking sanctuary. 

The theme of this year’s Refugee Week is “Imagine . . . “ and is being held from the 15th to 21st of June.  This provides wide possibilities for the curriculum including imagining a different future world or imagining having to flee… There were plenty of resources available on the new Refugee Week website and a list of the Simple Acts individuals can take to show solidarity. This year there is a Refugee Week schools pack which will be published in March or April. The British Red Cross have a resource pack which includes short films and the Moving Worlds programme – will continue to offer a series of feature length films with licenses to show during Refugee Week in your setting.  Posters, postcards, T-shirts and badges are also available.  for more information sign up to the newsletter and the website

Leanne Cameron closed the meeting inviting everyone to continue networking and learning from each other to build Schools of Sanctuary in Coventry.  She said

“A huge thank you to all school and education professionals and partners who attended this event.  EMAS are looking forward to a busy and meaningful year, taking positive action with young people embedding concepts of welcome, safely and inclusion in our community.  We are proud to be supporting Coventry schools grow tolerant, empathetic global citizens for the future.”

Delegates talked to each other, continued browsing the fantastic stalls, exhibitions and book displays whilst nibbling on the famous Arabian Bites– beautiful and delicious Middle Eastern vegan cuisine created by refugees – a social enterprise venture in partnership with Coventry City Council and St Francis of Assissi Church Radford promoting community cohesion and understanding.

For more information on Schools of Sanctuary check out the website.