From January-March this year, City of Sanctuary UK ran Link to Learn, an education project that aimed to support families who are seeking sanctuary with their children’s learning during the national lockdown. With the announcement of school closures and remote learning at the beginning of January, the need for additional targeted support for families who are seeking sanctuary became particularly pressing.
Over the past year, much has been written about learning loss caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent school closures and the fact this is likely to be particularly severe for those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. As has been previously noted, the various factors contributing to the obstruction of learning are likely to be particularly numerous and multi-layered for families from sanctuary-seeking backgrounds: these are often tied to language barriers, a lack of digital devices, low levels of parental education, challenging living conditions with few resources, and parent/carers’ lacking the background on the UK education systems and curriculum to support their child’s learning.
In response to concerns raised by a City of Sanctuary UK ambassador, City of Sanctuary UK applied and received funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust and The National Lottery Community Fund to develop online activities to support people from sanctuary-seeking backgrounds during lockdown. From this, we developed Link to Learn, which comprised of two components – Homework Club and the Storybook Sessions.
Alongside the activities available as part of Connect & Create, the Storybook Sessions aimed to provide English language exposure to families through an engaging story telling by an actor from our partner, Pilot Theatre, with language scaffolding before and after to make the story accessible and educational.
In addition to the Storybook Session videos, Homework Club offered families weekly individualised support from a volunteer tutor to help them and their children access, understand and answer the home learning materials sent by school. Involving 41 volunteer tutors and 42 different families comprising of 78 children, not only did Homework Club provide families with guidance and assistance with home learning but also built a sense of community amongst tutors and families during the national lockdown, helping to combat social isolation. Our end of project evaluation highlights the clear benefits felt by the families involved: not only do they report it building confidence in their children, but it also helped parents whose first language isn’t English understand the work sent by school and offered students’ a regular check-in with a trusted mentor.
As planned, Homework Club and the Storybook Sessions stopped at the end of March and with schools now reopened for all and the slow easing of lockdown the immediate urgency of supporting families from sanctuary seeking backgrounds may be seen to have lessened. Nonetheless, the lockdown period merely reinforced and brought to light the various obstacles that learners who are seeking sanctuary face in their education in the UK. Moving forward, projects such as Link to Learn, which offer targeted support to families from sanctuary seeking backgrounds and are aware of the specific challenges they experience, are vital for helping families overcome the obstacles to their children’s learning. The value of this support is clear in the feedback from our evaluation: 96% of families want Homework Club to continue beyond the trial period.
The additional guidance and assistance that families from sanctuary seeking backgrounds require to support their children’s learning is something we aim to raise awareness of amongst schools within our Schools of Sanctuary Stream and facilitate with the sharing of resources and practice. For more information on the Schools of Sanctuary stream, including resources and advice for schools see here.
City of Sanctuary UK would like to express their thanks to Pilot Theatre for their partnership in developing the Storybook Sessions and all the volunteer tutors who have dedicated their time each week in the Homework Club to support one of the families with whom we worked. We’d also like to convey our gratitude to the Barrow Cadbury Trust without whose support this project wouldn’t have been possible.