Refugee Welcome Schools, a European project to improve the lives of people fleeing war, is being trialled via pilot schemes in six schools in Cardiff and Birmingham.
The programmes have proven hugely successful, and there are plans to expand them to towns and cities across the UK.
Developed jointly by the UK teachers’ union NASUWT and Citizens UK, Refugee Welcome Schools enables schoolchildren in UK cities to gain an understanding of the hardship faced by refugees and take positive action to help address humanitarian crises.
Citizens UK began developing the concept in 2016 in response to negative attitudes towards refugees and increases in hate crimes following the Brexit vote.
Working with Saint Gabriel’s College, a Church of England secondary school in South London, they created the accreditation scheme, which works by recognising and praising schools that help refugees to integrate into the community.
Oliwia, a pupil at Saint Gabriel’s, says everyone at the school was on board: “We felt that the refugee crisis was very important to us so we wanted to take action that would make a difference. We are an inclusive Christian school with students of different faiths, languages and cultures, so we are already quite good at welcoming students who arrive from other countries. We thought about what a young refugee would need if they came to our school, and that we could set an example for how refugees should be treated.”
To become a Refugee Welcome School, schools must form a Refugee Welcome Plan, Learning Plan and Action Plan. These ideas are then examined by a Refugee Welcome Schools Panel, made up of teachers, educationalists, trades unionists, children and refugees themselves.
Fred Grindrod of NASUWT said: “It’s very much an organic project and we’re growing it. We had six schools accredited in the pilots but we hope to turn it into a national scheme for our members to promote over the next few years.”
Grindrod says the challenge has encouraged schools to pursue more creative and impactful means of fostering empathy and challenging misconceptions around issues of migration and asylum:
“We partnered with Citizens UK to develop what that meant and we came up with the concept. Schools were doing a lot already but efforts were not really praised or sung about, so want to capture good practice about what’s going on.”
These efforts have been supported by Education International, the gobal organisation representing teachers that has been supporting teachers in Europe to help refugees – such as “we have loads of immigrants in the UK” and “people come to the UK because we’re a soft touch and give out loads of benefits.”
This includes a project by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), an EI affiliate, to produce guides for teachers on how to address myths of immigration in the classroom. These were then presented at the Scottish Parliament and sent to all Scottish nurseries, schools, colleges and universities.
Fundraising has also been a popular focus. Several schools, including at Anglesey and St Francis Primary Schools in Birmingham, have established fundraising initiatives to send aid to Syrian children in a refugee camp.
Refugee Welcome Schools is an amazing initiative to reward civic action. By recognising schools that have made a commitment to welcome refugees in their institution and community, the programme is rejecting demonisation of refugees and asylum seekers and standing up in support of diversity and inclusion.
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