Blog: Welcoming Refugee Children: Advice and Guidance for Schools 3

This is the third and final blog post in a series of three that summarises a panel webinar hosted by The Bell Foundation on the topic of Welcoming Refugee Children.

This is the third and final blog post in a series of three that summarises a panel webinar hosted by The Bell Foundation on the topic of Welcoming Refugee Children. The panellists were three experts in refugee education who gave practical advice and guidance to schools to help ensure a smooth induction period for newly arrived pupils from Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Ukraine. If you have not read the first two blogposts in the series, you might want to start by reading the first post and the second post before you read this one.

This blog post focuses on the third presentation, led by Megan Greenwood, Schools of Sanctuary Support Coordinator at City of Sanctuary UK, a small UK-wide, non-profit organisation, which works within a broader national movement to help communities become welcoming and safe places for those seeking refuge from violence and persecution.

Megan began by explaining what Schools of Sanctuary are and how they fit into the vision of City of Sanctuary UK. Then she described the Schools of Sanctuary model and process for schools who would like to be recognised as a School of Sanctuary. Finally, Megan focused on why it is important to learn about migration as an aspect of school practice to promote a welcoming environment.

The vision

Megan emphasised that City of Sanctuary UK’s vision is that all places should be places of welcome, belonging and safety for people seeking sanctuary in the UK. She explained that City of Sanctuary UK enacts its vision in two ways:

  1. By acting as an umbrella organisation for over 120 local groups across the UK made up of people who have come together to raise awareness of forced displacement and the experiences of people seeking sanctuary in their local communities and providing them with support and coordination.
  2. By bringing together organisations and institutions within a shared field of practice or interest into Streams of Sanctuary and helping them to embed policies and practices of welcome within their setting. She added that in addition to Schools of Sanctuary, such organisations may include Further Education colleges, universities, gardens, museums, libraries, healthcare settings, and local authorities.

Schools of Sanctuary

There is a growing network of over 330 Schools of Sanctuary including schools, nurseries, and sixth form colleges across the UK. These education settings are committed to a shared vision of welcome and belonging for people seeking sanctuary and educating everyone within their school communities about forced displacement.

Megan explained that in order to become a School of Sanctuary, an education setting must evidence having gone through three distinct processes: learning, embedding and sharing, as well as meeting eight minimum criteria which are integrated within these three processes. For example:

  1. Within the learn process, the expectation is that everyone within the school community should learn about forced displacement and the experiences of people seeking sanctuary, and that all school staff should learn about some of the challenges that pupils seeking sanctuary might experience, and how to overcome these.
  2. The embed process is about implementing policies and practices to ensure that the school is a place of welcome and inclusion which respects everyone within the school community, and that it can effectively meet the needs of refugee and asylum-seeking pupils.
  3. The share aspect is about making sure that what the school has learnt about forced displacement and the vision of welcome is extended outside the school setting, for example, by ensuring that parents and carers are aware of what it means to be a School of Sanctuary and about some of the things that the school has learnt about forced displacement. It may also mean reaching out to local refugee organisations to show solidarity and support, or to reach out to local MPs and councillors and talk to them about what the school has learnt and why they think they should be more supportive of refugees and asylum seekers.

Megan stressed that these three processes are above all an effective and holistic vehicle for schools to adopt in order to develop and improve school practice in meeting the needs of refugee and asylum-seeking pupils. She added that the School of Sanctuary Award helps recognise and celebrate schools which are already modelling good practice in being places of welcome and belonging for these pupils in areas that are overlooked or underappreciated in other forms of national assessment and evaluation.

Learning about forced displacement

In the next part of her presentation, Megan zoomed in on the learn aspect, particularly on why learning about migration is an important feature in ensuring that a school is a place of welcome. She reminded participants of the prevalence of a negative and inaccurate rhetoric about migration and people seeking sanctuary in the public, from politicians and in the media, and stressed that schools can combat misinformation and ignorance, and reduce bullying and hate crime in educational settings by proactively engaging pupils in learning about the facts and the reality behind the headlines. Also, by supporting learners to understand the experiences of pupils seeking sanctuary both during their migration and on arrival in UK schools can build compassion for the newest members of their communities.

When it comes to learning about forced displacement, Megan recommended starting from the beginning. This means exploring the why, who, where and how of forced displacement:

  • Why people are forcibly displaced.
  • Who is being forcibly displaced.
  • Where people are being moved from and to.
  • How they are treated in their new settlement context.

Megan also emphasised the importance of focusing on the diversity of experiences of the people seeking sanctuary and on ensuring that pupils can connect with people who are forcefully displaced in a more holistic way, for example, by finding out about their dreams for the future, the relationships with their families, their hobbies, etc., as when looking at refugees and asylum seekers, it can often be quite othering. By exploring these dimensions, pupils can better connect with them and feel more compassionate towards people seeking sanctuary.

In addition, Megan recommended looking at migration more broadly by situating it within the global context, establishing where people are moving from and to, the historical context and the reasons why migration happens, so as to mitigate sensationalised reports in the media. She stressed that it is important that pupils know that migration and forced displacement are not new phenomena, but rather, a long part of human history. Successful approaches used by schools to introduce migration more broadly include:

  • Presenting pupils’ personal stories of migration. These stories can be about the pupils themselves (for instance, coming to the UK from Syria), or about members of their families moving to or from the UK (for example, their grandparents coming to the UK from Ireland, an uncle moving to Australia, or a sibling living in France on a temporary basis while studying at university). By exploring different migration stories, pupils can become aware that migration is not something that just happens to other people, but a phenomenon that we are all intimately connected with, thus avoiding the kind of othering aspect of learning about forced displacement and migration themes.
  • Exploring local migration histories. To illustrate this approach, Megan gave the example of schools in Norfolk looking at The Strangers (refugees who arrived in that part of the county in the 16th century fleeing religious persecution). By studying local migration histories, pupils can better understand that people seeking sanctuary have long been part of their communities and are very much who we are now.

Turning learning into action

Finally, Megan highlighted that once pupils have learnt about migration and forced displacement, it is key that they are given the space to turn their learning into action. Megan gave the example of schools that got actively involved with campaigns after finding out that asylum-seekers are not able to work while waiting for a decision on their claim. For instance, pupils contacted their MP to say why they thought this was unfair and raised awareness of this issue among their families and in the community. These types of activities challenge the difficult circumstances that asylum-seekers and refugees experience, encourage young learners’ critical thinking, and contribute to their development as active citizens working for a better future. Also, because schools are at the heart of communities, these activities can have a powerful reach and can raise awareness within the wider area across families.

Further reading and resources

If you would like to find out more about Schools of Sanctuary, visit their website. Check out their case studies, and termly newsletter.

Schools of Sanctuary have produced a new Resource Pack for Schools, which you can download for free.

If you have any questions, email


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