Schools of Sanctuary

The Schools of Sanctuary programme is an award scheme being piloted in the Urban Villages areas of Belfast and Derry/Londonderry with support from the Northern Ireland Executive’s Urban Villages Initiative, the Belfast City of Sanctuary Group and the Intercultural Education Service (IES).

The award, and the school development process leading up to the award, is aimed at helping schools to develop further the concept that schools are welcoming places for pupils and their families, where every child feels safe, where they are fully accepted. These schools will become beacons in the community as places where cultural diversity is valued and celebrated.

IES and the Urban Villages Initiative have worked closely with the City of Sanctuary group to develop a customised resource booklet and a promotional leaflet for schools. The ideas and resources are shaped around a simple triad of ‘Learn - Act - Share’ which helps pupils and students to develop cultural awareness as they acquire intercultural skills across the curriculum. These skills will not only improve communication and promote understanding across cultures but they will build community capacity and foster positive community identities. The content includes suggested resources for teachers to consider from ages 4-18.  Each resource is curriculum linked and referenced for teachers’ ease of use.  Other resources include links to organisations that teachers may find useful to support them. 

Together with the Urban Villages Initiative, IES staff are offering support to introduce the Schools of Sanctuary programme initially to schools located in, or serving children from the Urban Village areas. Together with the Urban Villages Initiative we can provide advisory support including connection with a range of strategic initiatives to enhance the experience for pupils, teachers and the wider school community. To-date, 14 schools have achieved the Schools of Sanctuary Award and this year, more schools will be embarking on this journey to create a welcoming school for newcomer children and their families. Blythefield Primary School in south Belfast Urban Village area celebrated becoming the first primary school in Northern Ireland to attain ‘School of Sanctuary’ status in June 2017.   The Principal, Catherine Roulston, reflected on their achievement of the award: 

“The School of Sanctuary project presented an opportunity to celebrate not only the cultures of the children who join our school as newcomers but also to celebrate and learn about the cultures of children who live in this community.”

If your school is interested in working towards this award and in sharing your good practice with others, to develop schools that are proud to be welcoming and places of safety and inclusion for all, please contact the IES Helpdesk by emailing or telephoning 028 9448 2210 for further information. 

Celebration of 13 new Schools of Sanctuary in Northern Ireland at Belfast City Hall

As part of Good Relations Week on 20 September 2018, 13 further schools from across Belfast and Derry/Londonderry have been recognised for achieving the ‘School of Sanctuary’ award.

Pupils and students from the 13 schools showcased some of their work at the event in Belfast City Hall which was attended by Belfast Lord Mayor Cllr Deirdre Hargey, EA Chairperson Sharon O’Connor and Mark Browne, TEO, Director of Strategic Policy, Equality and Good Relations.

Speaking at the event, Belfast Lord Mayor Cllr Deirdre Hargey said:

‘I have been greatly impressed by the work of all the children present today. They have shown us a great example of how we can all be more welcoming to families and children who need to feel their school is a place of sanctuary. Belfast is a welcoming city and as a council we would encourage many more of our schools to achieve School of Sanctuary status.’

The schools completed a series of developmental challenges, including Holy Cross Girls’ Primary School in Belfast who introduced new multi-lingual signs in the school, playground and garden. The school also hosted international visitors from Uganda to help their pupils find out more about migration and other difficult situations around the world.

The programme is supported through a partnership between the Urban Villages Initiative, EA’s Intercultural Education Service and the Belfast City of Sanctuary. A further 20 schools will be supported over the next two years.

The 13 new Schools of Sanctuary are:

  • Long Tower Primary Primary School
  • Malone Integrated College
  • Donegall Road Primary School
  • Elmgrove Primary School
  • Holy Evangelists’ Primary School
  • St Kieran’s Primary School
  • Christ the Redeemer Primary School
  • The Good Shepherd Primary School
  • Mercy College
  • Holy Cross Girls’ Primary School
  • Sacred Heart Primary School
  • St Joseph’s College
  • Cliftonville Integrated Primary School
Last upated: 30/04/2019