The Covid-19 pandemic has seen widespread school closures across the UK, with children sent home for prolonged and recurrent periods of time. This has resulted in widening education gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers, with those from sanctuary-seeking backgrounds more likely to have been disproportionately disadvantaged due to a variety of intersecting social and economic factors.
Learning from home has been challenging, not only in terms of access to vital digital devices and online learning material, but also given students’ often limited ability to engage with learning material as a result of language barriers and/or a lack of ICT skills. For parent/carers, supporting their child’s home learning is often difficult if they have low levels of English, or they lack understanding of the UK education systems and curricula. In many cases, these factors have overlapped to significantly hinder their learning and as students return to school, many – particularly those of secondary age – are faced with having made little to no academic progress in the past year or having even fallen backwards. Anecdotal reports from teachers, youth workers and local organisations, including different City of Sanctuary groups, indicate that these students are experiencing higher levels of disengagement and demotivation, further threatening their educational achievement.
Despite the physical restrictions on our movements, many local City of Sanctuary groups have nonetheless come together to confront these worrying effects of the pandemic.
In Flintshire, Wales, the local City of Sanctuary group has developed a variety of projects to support the children of the 10 families who have sought sanctuary in the local community. These include weekly virtual classes aimed at different age groups with the objectives of improving students’ English literacy, preventing a regression in English proficiency, and supporting students to complete the learning materials and homework sent by schools. In maths club, students get to grips with basic maths vocabulary such as shapes, mathematical equipment, and functions, whilst in English club they tackle storybooks pitched at appropriate ages, including classics by Michael Morpurgo and Julia Donaldson.
Reading Refugee Support Group, from which Reading City of Sanctuary operates as an arm, has also been quick to adapt its activities to support local students, trialling a new online homework support project in place of their homework club that previously took place in-person after school. This project has been made possible with the generous support of some local teachers who have volunteered their time to provide an hour of one-to-one online assistance with school-assigned homework every week.
In Leicester, the City of Sanctuary group has partnered with the city library to provide books to read and share online storybook reading sessions with the children of families seeking sanctuary in the hopes of maintaining and developing the children’s proficiency in English.
In a time when so many students seeking sanctuary in the UK are feeling demoralised, the success of these efforts and others like them reflect the strength of City of Sanctuary groups’ relationships with the families with whom they work and their commitment to finding innovative solutions to the current challenges.
We recognise, however, that not every local City of Sanctuary group across the network has this capacity or these resources and as we move in to 2021, City of Sanctuary UK wants every student seeking of sanctuary to have access to the support they need with home learning. In this context, City of Sanctuary UK are working to trial an online home learning support project for school-age students from January – March.
Whilst more information will be shared in January regarding specific activities and the timings of sessions, we are really interested to know if your City of Sanctuary group is already running a homework or home learning support project. Equally, if you know of students who may benefit from additional online support with learning or homework or if you could volunteer as a tutor for at least an hour a week from January – March please contact Megan at [email protected]. As we are keen to get the project running as soon as possible, DBS-certified teachers or trainee teachers would be particularly welcomed.