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The City of Sanctuary UK Vision

City of Sanctuary UK is a small refugee-sector charity that works to build a movement of welcome in the UK, standing in solidarity with people seeking safety. We want to see a UK where people seeking sanctuary feel safe and a sense of belonging; are able to thrive and succeed; and where their voices are centred and heard.

The Schools of Sanctuary programme aims to achieve this by:

  1. working with schools to challenge misconceptions about people seeking sanctuary and raise awareness of their experiences with school pupils, staff, governors, parent/carers and wider communities to build empathy; 
  2. helping schools to build up staff expertise in supporting new arrivals and adopt effective practice and provision to ensure children seeking sanctuary feel safe, belonging and able to thrive in school;
  3. and encouraging schools to connect and collaborate with local charities, organisations and institutions, and community groups to grow and strengthen our shared movement of welcome and solidarity with people seeking safety.

To achieve a Sanctuary Award, schools must go through the Learn, Embed and Share processes and demonstrate the fulfilment of the eight minimum criteria. Learn more about the Schools of Sanctuary Award.

What is a School of Sanctuary?

  • A school that educates the whole school community about the experiences and realities of people who have been forced to flee to foster empathy and understanding.
  • A school, nursery or sixth-form that fosters a culture of welcome and safety for people seeking sanctuary, including asylum seeking and refugee families.
  • A school that plays an active role in building a culture of welcome by connecting with and supporting local refugee organisations, collaborating with other institutions to raise awareness and advocate for a kinder approach towards those seeking safety.

Why become a School of Sanctuary?

Schools are the centre of our communities and so they have a powerful role in building cultures of welcome and compassion and ensuring families seeking sanctuary are effectively supported.

As of the end of 2022, there are more than 108 million people who have been forcibly displaced, of whom about 40% are children. This is an important global phenomenon that can not be ignored and that schools must address in order to build understanding and empathy.

Within the UK, this has never been more important with widespread hostile – and often inaccurate- rhetoric in the public and in the media driving increasingly cruel immigration policies and encouraging attitudes of distrust and hate. Schools can combat misinformation and promote approaches led by kindness and compassion rather than mistrust and judgement.

Schools have also never before been more at the forefront of receiving and supporting those forcibly displaced: the recent, sudden arrival of people from Ukraine, Afghanistan and changes to the dispersal of families seeking asylum across the UK mean schools are increasingly the first supportive institution refugee children and families come into contact with. Despite this, there is a lack of guidance, teacher training, funding and support for schools to develop provision and practice that effectively meets the needs of students seeking sanctuary. The Schools of Sanctuary programme helps schools access the resources, advice and guidance to review and refine their practice and build much needed expertise in relevant areas. Ensuring sanctuary seeking children are supported in school has tangible impacts on their wellbeing and educational progression and outcomes.

Children often feel passionately about standing with those who are most marginalised and disadvantaged and Schools of Sanctuary support students to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to take action and make change. These are transferable skills that help pupils to become responsible citizens and positive changemakers.

Working towards becoming a School of Sanctuary also provides schools with a powerful focus for possible development in areas such as:

  • Meeting the requirements of the Equality Act 2010
  • Imaginative re-engagement with required curriculum areas such literacy, language arts, geography, history, humanities
  • Social, Moral, Spiritual and Cultural education and ‘British Values’
  • Aligning with the emphasis on ‘courageous advocacy’ in the SIAMS framework and the principle of Catholic Social Justice Teaching.
  • Building a school culture an inclusive school culture of belonging that reduces intolerance, hate speech and bullying
  • Improving the provision of English as an additional language in school
  • Fostering ethically-informed active citizenship and changemaking skills amongst young people
  • Engaging families and strengthening the school’s role in the local community

“Becoming a School of Sanctuary has been a transformative process that has contributed to being recognised as a national inclusion centre for excellence at a primary school that was failing five years ago.”  Victoria Kirkman, Headteacher in North Yorkshire

“The Schools of Sanctuary initiative continues to have a huge impact in our school. In recent years, it has been influential in supporting the improvement of provision for EAL families, creating news links with parents and the wider community, enriching and diversifying our curriculum, improving the induction and provision for refugee pupils and their families and much more. Fundamentally it has been key in the school living up to and sharing its values and ethos with the community and building a culture of welcome, safety and inclusion for all. The fact that Norfolk County Council have become involved in the organisation and facilitation of the network recently is testament to the ability of the Schools of Sanctuary initiative to drive school improvement and improve the educational experiences and outcomes for some of the most disadvantaged families in our schools.” Jake Rose-Brown, Teacher in Norfolk

Ready to get started?

Sign the pledge and become a School of Sanctuary

If you are in the Republic of Ireland, please visit Places of Sanctuary Ireland