IEG is part of a network of Further Education college staff, teachers and students, working together to make education inclusive and empowering for all. Together, they raise awareness within Further Education of the issues faced by refugees, asylum seekers, and people from an otherwise forced displacement background, offering specialised support and education, and contributing to a culture of welcome in the wider community. An FE College of Sanctuary is a college that has gone above and beyond to support those in the asylum system, helping to raise awareness amongst students, staff and the wider community about migration and why people seek safety. Good practice is recognised and celebrated through this national award, which encourages other institutions to provide more inclusive education and support.
Laila Bentley, Assistant Principal of Student Experience & Support, explained the work undertaken by Inspire Education Group to ensure that students and their families that are seeking sanctuary feel respected and valued; “To support the increase in students seeking asylum, the Group, and in particular Peterborough’s ESOL provision and Construction team, have been doing amazing work in providing the best possible learning opportunities. Wellbeing, Welfare, Personal Development, Engagement and Safeguarding teams have worked collaboratively with external agencies and local community partners, like PARCA, GLADCA and Peterborough Citizens, to provide enrichment opportunities and to develop initiatives”.
The Group’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) department supports asylum seekers back into learning, with over 300 enrolled on part-time and full-time ESOL courses this year. Students are able to share experiences and learn alongside people from other countries, developing speaking, writing, listening and reading skills that enable them to progress onto mainstream college courses or employment. In addition to traditional grammar and vocabulary lessons, the course also covers a wide range of General English topics, from personal and social development, to environment and culture, which helps asylum seekers to settle into life in the UK. There is also a Group-wide commitment to ensuring that all staff have a good understanding of the journeys that these young people have been on, and they are equipped with the tools and signposting information to enable these learners to have the best possible start to life in Peterborough. An ESOL student at Peterborough College commended the support they’d received; “ESOL staff and the wider College were so supportive in a difficult time in my life where I knew nobody, had to flee my home country and leave my family behind at just 17. Particularly, Leigh-Anne in ESOL and Moe Dhanji support me every day, and this helps me succeed at College and life. Not only do Peterborough College support me academically, but also with my mental health needs relating to my trauma”.
To celebrate the organisations who go above and beyond to welcome people seeking sanctuary, the charity introduced the Sanctuary Award programme. After watching what was described by City of Sanctuary representatives as “a truly inspirational presentation” by IEG staff, the panel unanimously agreed that Inspire Education Group was worthy of FE College of Sanctuary status. Sara Trewhitt, Director of Operations at City of Sanctuary, said, “FE Colleges who receive the award show a deep commitment to ensuring that refugee and asylum-seeking students are welcomed and can thrive at their institutions. We are delighted at all the work that the entire Inspire Education Group have put into ensuring that their learners from all backgrounds can feel safe and included”.
Rachel Nicholls, Chief Executive Officer of Inspire Education Group said, “We are delighted to be awarded FE College of Sanctuary status, which recognises the fantastic work we do with our students who are asylum seekers or refugees. It is so important that as a college we support all our students to succeed in life, particularly those who experience so many personal challenges and barriers. I want to thank all those staff who were involved in the assessment process and who work so hard, day in, day out, to support our asylum seeker and refugee students, whether that is in vocational curriculum areas, ESOL or our fantastic support teams. Particular thanks to Laila Bentley, who led and coordinated the application process. We are determined to continue to improve the support we offer these learners”.