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On this page we will share some examples of good practice from across the network. If you have an example of a project or initiative at your college you would like to share please let us know!

Reading Buddies: Encouraging Student Interactions and Learning

Halesowen College’s well-established Reading Buddies group continues to thrive with the newest student arrivals; offering meaningful opportunities for sanctuary seeking students to connect with the wider student community and develop their English proficiency.

Students across college are invited to volunteer their time to talk to and read with students from our ESOL programme. This helps build bonds of friendship between students from different courses who have differing life experiences and allows students for whom English is their second language to become more confident with their speaking and comprehension skills. This is particularly helpful for students who want to pick up more colloquial or regional language and have a greater understanding of their peers.

Enrichment Coordinator Erika Walkington says, “It’s great to see students from a wide
range of courses come together during the Reading Buddies sessions. Talking and making new friends is as important as reading. All students involved benefit from these sessions, making valuable connections with peers outside of their main social groups.”.

Newcastle City Learning make links with their local library

ESOL learners from Newcastle City Learning attended either a morning or afternoon session in their class groups accompanied by their class tutor. To promote their engagement the learners were given a quiz to complete which included a feedback section.

Learners enjoyed the visit and found something that could help them now or something that would be of use in the future. They also commented on how friendly and helpful the staff and other library users were.

After the visit, students reported that they would use the library to “use the computers and read the books, [to] meet a friend and [to] speak with staff” also for “printing, photocopy, borrowing books and bringing children to borrow books”.

Tutors found that this was an extremely worthwhile visit and one which should be repeated in the future.

Extra support for learners during Covid

Being a residential college that offers adult education, Fircroft often works with those most disadvantaged and excluded from education.

Fircroft’s previous community based and volunteer powered ESOL projects Talk English and Midlands Engine came to an end in March 2020 due to COVID19 and they were eager to keep the momentum of their ESOL work in the local community. Neena Chauhan, Project Manager shares why this was important:

“We have successfully delivered two challenging projects in the past 3 years, working closely with partners in the local community and our amazing volunteer tutors. This has given us great reach into the local community especially with newly arrived asylum seekers and refugees. COVID19 threw a huge spanner in the works and abruptly stopped this progress in March leaving many of our students without any ESOL opportunities. We wanted to ensure we could provide some accessible education as we know this community group experiences a wide range of challenges especially having minimal to no digital access.”

Working in partnership with Birmingham Centre of Art Therapy, Fircroft College collectively designed an ESOL and wellbeing pack which included an ESOL workbook for a range of levels and a calming pack aimed to promote positive wellbeing through therapeutic based activities.

Both workbooks were accompanied by colouring pencils and pens and delivered to three community partners in June (British Red Cross, Birmingham, Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid and Barnados).

Preparing learners for the world of work

Managers at Newcastle City Learning (NCL) were aware that several learners were keen to become self-employed and set up their own micro-enterprises so came up with the idea of running a Christmas Market at the Westgate campus to test out such an opportunity and teach enterprise skills. Liaison with a range of agencies, including Trading Standards and JCP, successfully resulted in planning for an on-site market which took place in mid-December 2015 for the first time and was widely promoted across the city, including via social media. There have been 13 markets since and it has grown to about 30 stalls. More than 100 learners have participated.

Many of stalls are taken up by ESOL learners, but also by students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, and other learners and a range of goods are sold – from food to jewellery to clothes.

A pre-event session, preparing would-be vendors for the market, is held some two weeks before the event and covers basic marketing principles, self-employment and the law, and signposting where to go in Newcastle for more help with business set-up.

Learners wanting to sell food are required to have Food Hygiene training which the college offers and they prepare and store the food on the college premises, with the cookery tutor supervising food preparation on the day. We also used the market as a focus for class-based activities on business communications, promotion and publicity. Tutors continue to provide support, but really it has become a learning-through-action project.

Hidden Talents and Speed-dating: Employability for Students Seeking Sanctuary

Faced with lots of new asylum seeker/refugee learners into the college, the ESOL department at Preston College sought out local professional and voluntary groups to improve support mechanisms for their learners.

Employability skills are integrated into teaching sessions but it was recognised that employment was a real barrier for asylum seekers and refugees, many of whom were highly skilled professionals in their native country.

An Advice and Guidance “speed dating” event was held with teaching staff from across college vocational and professional areas for learners to learn more about the qualifications they would require to obtain employment in their chosen areas. It was apparent that staff in different areas of the college were unaware of the skills and qualities of the ESOL cohort which led to some innovative approaches to including learners within their areas.

The colleges then hosted a “Hidden Talent” event to engage local businesses and encourage them to consider changes to their recruitment processes to make them more inclusive for refugees.

The Red Cross spoke about the journey for asylum seekers to the UK and explained the legalities of employing refugees. Asylum seeker learners spoke emotionally about their life before fleeing to the UK and Job Centre Plus gave details of “Job Trials”. Preston’s College explained the different areas of language skills. A local company spoke about the advantages of employing a diverse workforce and a local Construction company spoke about his experience in employing a Syrian refugee – and he reciprocated.

The event was a resounding success with other areas interested in replicating the event in other parts of the county and 100% of attendees responding that they would consider employing a refugee. Opportunities for voluntary employment were also opened up for Asylum Seekers through the college network.

Open Days at Universities of Sanctuary with Syrian Futures

Syrian Futures is based in the Alwaleed Centre, at The University of Edinburgh, and offers Scottish Syrians of all ages advice, support and training to help them access higher/further education and find their way to fulfilling jobs and careers. Many of the Syrians they work with are students in their final year of college and so they have organised special open days at Scottish universities, during which students can talk to academics and students to get a feel for university life. They also discuss access courses available through local colleges which will help them in their journey towards university.

In February 2020 they organised a visit to the University of St Andrews. The young people really enjoyed walking around the campus and learning about different aspects of university life. They then took part in a workshop with St Andrews PhD student, Nouha Idrees (School of Psychology and Neuroscience) on the Importance of self-compassion in adolescents. Afterwards, the group had a really memorable handling session with archaeological material led by Prof. Rebecca Sweetman, Head of the School of Classics and Professor of Ancient History and Archaeology, who, as chair of the Refugee and Forced Mobility Network within the University, led the St Andrews initiative to become a University of Sanctuary.

It was a greatly beneficial day, helping to build connections between the Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews,  both Universities of Sanctuary, and raise awareness among the Syrian community of different higher education options. It was a great pleasure to see how this visit motivated and inspired those who took part.

The Beautiful Game: ESOL, Football, and a bit of Christmas Cheer

Halesowen College had a few ESOL students who were keen to start a football team.  This project was supported as part of a Sport England initiative and quickly grew to 28 students who attend a training session each week.  The interest from so many students enabled them to create an ESOL football team which has FA accreditation.  The team participated in 5 tournaments last year. Many of the ESOL students would have had nothing to do on Christmas Day, so they organised a Christmas Day football match, which was attended by ESOL students and staff from a large number of College departments.  Staff not only cheered on the footballers, but also supplied the refreshments and bought small Christmas gifts. Following the Christmas Day match, ESOL footballers were given tickets to watch West Bromwich Albion play later the same week.  This year our ESOL footballers are part of the Birmingham County Flexi College League.  This league has enabled them to enter both male and female teams with varying levels of football experience and ability and has encouraged non-sporting students to engage with football activities.

Swansea Refugee & Asylum Seeker Covid Virtual Support

Gower College Swansea is very proud and privileged to have a strong working relationship with the Swansea Refugee and Asylum Seeker support group. For many years the College met has supported learners seeking sanctuary into education and guaranteed opportunities for these learners to progress into higher level courses and employment. Ultimately the goal of any College is to provide opportunity coupled with a safe environment and sanctuary for all learners to achieve their goals and aspirations. During the present times of uncertainty, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the College met with the support group to see how we could influence and action key issues for the benefit of learners seeking sanctuary. The main topics we worked together to resolve were:

1. Removal of course enrolment fees so no barrier in place for education
2. Equality of transportation to support learners travelling to College for education
3. Digital deprivation to ensure learners were not disadvantaged from their studies
4. Single point of contact (SPOC) to resolve issues in a timely manner

Art and Design student Flora Luckman was recently commissioned by Gower College Swansea to create a bespoke piece of work that captures the ethos and atmosphere of the Llwyn y Bryn Campus. Flora has recently completed the Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at Llwyn y Bryn and is now progressing to the University of Edinburgh to study Illustration.

“As my final project, I chose to do a children’s book about the environment and traveling around the world,” says Flora. “Our Learning Area Manager Kieran Keogh really liked one of the pages, which featured a world map, and commissioned me to make a bigger piece, based around the multiculturalism of the campus.”

“Alongside our art and design, photography and music students, Llwyn y Bryn is also home to ESOL learners, many of whom came to the UK as refugees and asylum seekers and who want to develop their English skills,” says Kieran. “So it was really important that Flora’s artwork reflect and celebrate all our students, past and present. 

You can see the original post on the Gower College website here

Gower College Swansea was officially recognised as a College of Sanctuary in September 2021, the first FE College in Wales to receive such an accolade.