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An Action-Packed Refugee Week at St Mary the Virgin PS

St Mary the Virgin Primary School, Cardiff

St Mary the Virgin Primary School is a Primary School set in Butetown, a part of Cardiff that is home to one of the oldest multi cultural communities in the UK. They are a Church in Wales school with 29 ethnicities and 18 languages. 95% of their pupils identify as Black, Asian or Minority ethnic, 83% are Muslim and 83% of pupils are classed as having English as an additional language. They are, in many ways, a wonderful, small reflection of the society they serve and know what it is to live together, day by day, in a diverse environment where change is frequent and a welcome is extended to everyone who comes within their scope.

In one sense, St Mary the Virgin Primary School is a school that daily celebrates their diversity and heritage. Their Friday assembly begins with a Welcome in every language represented in the school community (22 currently); they regularly meet the needs of new families through translated phone calls and visits and they actively seek to celebrate with community events and invite the wider community into school to share their lives (when COVID allows!). So, for St Mary the Virgin Primary School, Refugee Week was, and is, a natural extension of what they do. It has been a wonderful opportunity to enhance what they already do and truly take time to listen to learners’ stories, walk through their experiences and engage in their unique narratives.

They particularly loved the 2021 Refugee Week theme, ‘We cannot walk alone’ which felt like such an appropriate call for the school, as a community, to draw on each other when they have been apart for so many months. They approached the week with a three-fold plan, seeking to reach our children by:

  1. Using age appropriate texts that dealt with the narratives and challenges of refugee experience in order to open discussion and activities within each class.

Whilst it’s not possible to go into every detail, they focused on a range of texts from ‘Paddington Bear’ with our youngest pupils to ‘Refugees and Migrants’ in Years 5 and 6. The experiences that emerged from these texts included a Teddy Bears’ Picnic where all pupils discussed the practicalities of being hungry and needing food if they set off on a long journey. While older pupils reflected on the stories and narratives, sharing dress and customs from their own cultures, reflecting deeply on the experiences and being encouraged to empathise with the plight of so many, as they had read in their texts.

  1. Undertaking creative and ‘aspirational’ activities with pupils to open their eyes to the opportunities around them as well as reflecting on their own stories.

Every class took time to sit and share. One of the most striking things they discovered was that so many of the pupils, whilst not all being refugees, had stories of families in different countries. Many could recall living in another country themselves and had specific memories of those times. Staff were struck by how their pupils, who felt their sense of belonging in our school, still had roots that were planted in so many other countries and had stories and emotions that reflected that. The vital place of individual narratives across the week was really striking and the staff learned so much from the pupils as they sat and shared with them. Linked to this, every pupil was given an ‘I have a dream…’ footprint to share their hopes and dreams. The breadth of their aspirations was fantastic – and inspiring – and the intention is to now display them through the school as a reminder of the hopes they have.

  1. Focusing on making our learning environments a welcoming place for everyone.

As part of their preparations, they took part in Norfolk Schools of Sanctuary a ‘Day of Welcome’ activities where they focused on making the school a place that welcomed everyone. Every pupil drew a self portrait and it was wonderful to see them focusing on their features and celebrating their individuality. These were used to create Welcome signs for each room. Pupils brought in ‘hello’ and ‘welcome’ in their home languages and these are being used to create a celebration and welcome display in the school foyer as well as to update our greetings in the Friday Llyfr Dda/Good Book assembly.


St Mary the Virgin shared their activities on their Twitter feed (@SMTVCardiff) and proactively reached out to their local community. They found this a hugely helpful way of connecting with others who have the same aims and vision, as well as showing parents of learners the value they place on embracing our community – be they well-established Butetown families or those that are new to Wales.

On reflection, they seemed to fit a lot into the week! Yet every member of staff would agree that having the time to listen to our pupils’ narratives and create space for hopeful, sad or difficult conversations was inspiring. Pupils used their voices to develop teachers’ understanding and practice. The week encouraged St Mary the Virgin Primary School to continue to make their school a place which recognises that we cannot walk alone and that a warm welcome to everyone in the community, and beyond, is at the heart of all that is done at St Mary’s.