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Schools of Sanctuary Update

A School of Sanctuary is a school that is committed to being a safe and welcoming place for all, especially those seeking sanctuary. These could be people whose lives were in danger in their own country, who have troubles at home or are just looking for a place or space of safety.

Belfast City of Sanctuary works with the Intercultural Service of the Education Authority with funding from the Urban Villages Initiative to develop Schools of Sanctuary in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry. At present Schools of Sanctuary are confined to Urban Village areas, of which there are 4 in Belfast and 2 in Derry/Londonderry. It is hoped that the Schools of Sanctuary Initiative will eventually extend to all parts of Northern Ireland.

The aim is that from the first day, when a newcomer child enters a school, they will see visible signs that they are welcomed and included in the school’s learning programme. The schools have put a lot of effort into doing this work. Parents are encouraged to engage with other parents. Schools also work in hubs to share best practice and to generate new ideas.

Start with the children……they know how to break down barriers…….It’s a fertile area for Good Relations work.

There are three simple processes to being a School of Sanctuary which can be accessed through in the Schools of Sanctuary Toolkit. See

  1. Learn about what it means to be seeking sanctuary.
  2. Take positive action to embed concepts of welcome, safety and inclusion within your school and the wider community.
  3. Share your vision and achievements – be proud!

Schools of Sanctuary started here in September 2016 with Blythefield Primary becoming the first School of Sanctuary in Belfast. We now have 28 Schools of Sanctuary in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry. This year, a further 15 schools will come on board. For schools this year, an introductory session was held in the autumn followed by a workshop. This will be followed by 2 or 3 further clusters with teachers emailing each other for support and advice in between. Schools complete an audit and action plan and when the actions are complete they prepare a portfolio for submission to the Belfast City of Sanctuary Monitors in May. This is followed by a visit to the schools by monitors from Belfast City of Sanctuary to inspect the schools. If they have met the criteria in June, there is an award ceremony in September in Belfast City Hall.

Belfast City of Sanctuary also bring in representatives from refugee and ethnic minority communities to do awareness work with pupils using its resource from ‘A part of Belfast Now’ which tells the stories of people making new lives for themselves in Belfast.

Next year, EA is planning to have an online application with learning and sharing materials for all schools throughout Northern Ireland and possibly further afield. It is hoped that this will be ready in September 2020.