Last week, schools and supporters of the network from across the UK joined together online to learn more about and celebrate the INSPIRATIONAL efforts of the Schools of Sanctuary network over the past academic year.
Ten years on from the programme’s launch, the network of awarded schools has grown from 295 recognised schools in July 2021, to 373 awarded or reaccredited schools this year, with that number likely to rapidly further grow – there are over 300 more schools that have signed the supporting organisation pledge – the first step to becoming a School of Sanctuary.
The network has grown geographically too – whilst last year Schools of Sanctuary was being delivered in 34 local areas, this year we have reached nearly 60 local areas and represents all four nations.
Chloe MacDonald from Lochardil Primary School, Inverness, shared her school’s journey to being recognised the very first School of Sanctuary in Scotland and the impact on the school community. As a school with no refugee or asylum-seeking students, and few within the wider community, school leadership still felt it was important to ensure all students had the opportunity to develop their understanding of migration to build compassion and that the school was ready, should a refugee child arrive. Now, with Ukrainian families arriving in the local area, hosts are approaching the school as their first choice for the children that are arriving.
Ruth Hall from Dene Academy, Durham talked about her school’s efforts to ensure that students learnt about migration and seeking sanctuary in a comprehensive and nuanced way. She explained how she’s worked with staff across subject areas to identify topics where these themes were already being explored and then see how they could be further explored and developed. This included the usual subjects like literature, RE and PSHE but also history, geography, food technology and even maths!
Fiona Carrick-Davies from Surrey Square Primary School, London, talked about her school’s campaign efforts – driven by the needs and priorities of their school community. With many of their students’ negatively affected by NRPF and Citizenship Fees for children, she explained how their school worked to empower students and their families push for change on the issues that affected them and how the school supported their efforts. She ended with practical suggestions and advice for schools also interested in getting further involved in these efforts.
Rachel Clark from St Andrew’s Church of England Primary School in the Wirral, shared details of the collaborative Refugee Week project – ‘The Travelling Suitcase’ that a number of schools across the area took part in, with support from a number of local organisations and institutions. In this project, a suitcase filled with activities, refugee-themed children’s books and more was passed between schools with all participating schools also contributing welcome handkerchiefs that will be sewn together to form a banner to be displayed at a local refugee-support organisation.
Nathan Howells from Richmond Park Primary School, Carmarthenshire introduced the Cymuned Croeso (Welcome Committee), a group of students with migratory backgrounds and/or who had arrived mid-year into school who were increasingly taking leadership of sanctuary efforts in school. At regular meetings, these students reflect on their experiences to advise the school on how it can be more welcoming for new arrivals – and hold staff accountable for making the necessary changes happen!
Dawn Cooper from Sacred Heart Primary School in Birmingham, explained how her school supports students at families at risk in the hostile environment. Sharing two harrowing case stories of how families had been put at danger by these policies, including being forced into homelessness, she outlined the ways in which the school had stepped in to support the families at the time which has included accommodating families in a hotel, providing white goods for new accommodation, writing letters of support for asylum claims and much, much more.
Finally, Jasmine Kay at Wood Ley Primary School, Suffolk shared her school’s efforts to proactively reach, welcome and support new individuals and families seeking sanctuary within their wider locality. As a school with no refugee or asylum-seeking students and few within their local town, the school had instead reached out to a refugee support organisation within their wider area to see the ways in which they could learn from and support them. This has included sending welcome cards to new Afghan families (in Dari/Pashto) being housed in hotels, preparing and offering sewing kits to those who were asking for them, offering school space and facilities for the activities of the local refugee support organisation, including in the summer holidays and providing work experience placements in schools, along with training opportunities for those interested.
Want to watch the event for yourself? You can watch the full recording on Youtube.
Inspired? Learn more about becoming a School of Sanctuary here: Steps to becoming a School of Sanctuary.