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Schools of Sanctuary

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 Education Authority’s 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 accepted regardless of what they believe, where they are from or what they look like, they become beacons in the community, 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 (click to download) and a promotional leaflet for schools (click to download). 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. 

Some schools will have already embarked 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 at Tel. 028 9448 2210 or email for further information.    



The Education and Library Boards (ELBs) were dissolved on 31 March 2015. The Education Authority was established on 01 April 2015 and is now responsible for all of the operational functions previously carried out by the five ELBs in accordance with the Education Orders.

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