Equality and Human Rights

Diversity in Elected Office- Celebrating International Women’s Day

One of COSLA’s priorities is to develop the diversity of local elected representatives, addressing barriers and encouraging and supporting a wider range of people to come forward as candidates in local government elections.  Over the coming months we will be sharing stories from elected members, celebrating and encouraging increased diversity. We will hear why people choose to stand for elected office, what they gain from doing so as well as the  barriers and challenges they  face  and how these are overcome. Join us as we hear these inspirational stories……

I’m Barbara Foulkes, I’m from Kirkwall on Orkney and I’m the councillor for Kirkwall West and Orphir. I’m married with two grown up children and when off duty I am usually found walking the dog or on the golf course! I was elected in 2017 and to celebrate International Women’s Day I’m reflecting on why I decided to stand for election and how I am getting on two years later…..

Why stand to be a local councillor?

The above is a great question – and particularly so if you are a woman. Personally, I stood because:

I love the place I live in. It is the people that make Orkney, they are warm, friendly and welcoming and I stood for elected office because I wanted to work for them, to make a difference to the quality of life for people here.

I wanted to get involved in local decision making. I’ve always been involved in local groups; I am by nature interested in how things are done, why and for who. It is part of my DNA. I have always been political – I’m a card-carrying Liberal Democrat. These interests drew me towards elected office.

You cannot be it if you cannot see it- and we don’t see enough women in local politics. We need more women in local politics. We are more than 50% of the population but make up only 30% of elected members in Local Government. Women are underrepresented! I also believe women often bring an open mindedness and a resolution and solution focused approach that is sometimes missing in local politics. Women can make a massive difference in political life. I wanted to be one of those women and I wanted to encourage other women into the role too.

And how am I doing – two years on from being elected?

It’s pretty much full time and very rewarding. The day to day meetings at which meaningful decisions are made take up a lot of time – but to be at the heart of the discussions on the strategic future for Orkney is so important to me.

The contact with the people who live in the ward is critical. The best part of the job (and yes, it is a job) is helping someone with a problem. Meeting the members of the electorate one to one means you build up real relationships; it is humbling to be trusted to take the issues they raise forward on their behalf. There is not always a solution and that is hard to accept but most of time we can so something; when we can’t it often helps people just to be a listening ear.

I am a better talker than a writer. I am writing this in the hope that more women will stand for local election. Join the conversation and give more women a voice.

If you would like to get in touch directly my contact details are barbara.foulkes@council.orkney.gov.uk and I’m on Facebook as ‘Barbara Foulkes Councillor’

Refugee Integration, Refugee Resettlement

Young Syrians’ New Lives on the Isle of Bute

Our next guest blogger is Rowan Watkins who made regular day trips to Bute where she met and befriended young New Scots living on the island.  In this abridged extract from Rowan’s final year Baccalaureate report the young Syrians she made friends with open up to her about making new friends and how their education in Scotland has given them new hope for the future.

Argyll and Bute Council were one of the first to receive refugees in December 2015 resettling families on the Isle of Bute. 

On the 22nd February 2018 I went to Bute and interviewed the young Syrian refugees, aged between fourteen and nineteen who had been resettled there.  I wanted to ask them about their experiences of resettlement and what impact the war had had on their own hopes and dreams for their future, the experiences of fleeing their homes and being in and out of school for many key years in their education. 

These young people had lots to say about their experiences and as much of the research into the impacts of refugee resettlement has been on adults, this gave me a chance to give them a voice and let them talk about their opportunities in Scotland.

All the young people above the age of 3 that were resettled on the Isle of Bute attend Rothesay Joint Campus, a 3-18 school.  This has enabled them to make friends, learn English and become active in the community as well as gain an education which will allow them to sit exams and gain Scottish qualifications. 

Rothesay Joint Campus has provided the young people with many opportunities over the past two years as well as support in learning English and help with making friends.  These opportunities include courses and volunteer opportunities to get the young people playing a part in the community, meeting people and putting their English lessons into practice. 

All of the young people are apprehensive about future exams.   Language is still an issue for all but one of them.   They are beginning to make future plans once again.  One young person is hoping to go to university.  He has applied to study immunology.

 “There a few things I’ve been thinking of [for the future] but I have decided that I want to finish my studies and either go to university or go back to Syria, the most important thing is that I want to finish studying. Whether that’s here or in in Syria I want to finish.”

Unlike the rest of the UK, refugees in Scotland are entitled to access further and higher education on the same basis as anyone legally resident in Scotland and can apply to have their tuition fees paid by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland if they are studying for a full time first degree or equivalent. 

Being resettled in the UK has been seen as positive by all of the young people I interviewed.   However, it was obvious from speaking with them that they had a desire to make friends and find their place in the community but due to the language barrier and impact of what they had been through this was extremely challenging. 

I asked the young people if they felt like it had been up to them to make friends or if young locals had tried to initiate friendships, I got a variety of answers due to different levels of English and family circumstances, but all felt that making friends was mostly their responsibility.

“Support from my teachers for my subjects is good…”

“People tried to be friends with me, but it was hard talking”

“When I first came here I couldn’t really make friends until S2 because I didn’t understand the language, but I tried to make friends, I had three support teachers for helping with English [to help make friends]”

For the young people understanding English is the biggest barrier to making friends.  The Scottish Government’s recently published New Scot Refugee Integration Strategy 2018 – 2022 also confirms this.  Being able to communicate confidently with people, including neighbours, shop workers or members of a local community group, help people to feel settled, build social connections and be involved in their local area.

The opportunities for young Syrians in the UK now are much better than when they were living as refugees in the Middle East.  

I have been very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to research a topic which is very widely discussed in the media however little is reported on the experiences, hopes and aspirations of the young people and I hope through this report I am able to give them a voice. 

I wish them all the best for the future and sincerely hope that they will be able to achieve all their dreams.

ESOL, Refugee Integration, Refugee Resettlement

Celebrating success – Clackmannanshire Refugee Team shortlisted for ‘Most Inspiring or Innovative Project Award’ Quality Improvement Awards

Clackmannanshire Council’s Education Refugee Team were shortlisted for ‘Most Inspiring or Innovative Project Award’ in the Scottish Government and Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s Quality Improvement Award.

All 32 Scottish Local Authorities are working tirelessly to help resettled refugees integrate in their new communities and it’s great news when this work is recognised.

Here, our friend Lynette Murray outlines just some of the hard work that led to this achievement.

Over the past two years Clackmannanshire has welcomed 20 Syrian refugee families into the authority. Data showed that these children and their families were finding it extremely challenging to adapt to their new surroundings and educational settings. All of these families were potentially very vulnerable due to communication barriers, social isolation and experience of trauma and loss.

Recognising these challenges and using quality improvement methodology to support the design, implementation and evaluation of the project, the Education Refugee Team was implemented to provide an innovative service delivery model to improve well-being and learning outcomes for all Syrian refugee families.

Clackmannanshire Council is delighted to announce that the Education Refugee Team has been shortlisted for a QI Award 2018– ‘Most Inspiring or Innovative Project Award’.

The project is partnership-based and has implemented a range of supports at different levels including:

  • sensory-led, 1 to 1 well-being support for nursery & school aged children
  • direct 1 to 1 EAL support
  • Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy
  • community integration events
  • ESOL provision (formal and informal) for adults
  • Employability support
  • supported activity and homework programmes
  • enhanced Primary 7 transition
  • delivery of staff training in supporting refugee children
  • ‘Circle of Friends’ groups
  • Targeted youth work & holiday programmes
  • Refugee mother & baby groups


The delivery of the numerous interventions have been delivered in a creative manner underpinned by the Neurosequential Model in Education (NME) approach which considers the stage of brain development, as opposed to the chronological age of the child by focussing on sensory regulation.

ESOL provision for Refugee adults has been supported by an onsite crèche, which focuses on structured and sensory play, ensuring attendance is possible for mothers. Additionally during the school holidays this crèche is also transformed into a play scheme which welcomes all children of all ages.


The successful development of this partnership model has embraced a holistic, needs led approach to build capacity amongst young people where vision and innovation are key.

The project has made a vast impact in ensuring refugee families’ well-being & learning needs are being met, and that they are being signposted for further support where necessary. It has been creative and ambitious at every opportunity, in driving forward change in outcomes for Syrian refugees integrating into Clackmannanshire and adapting to living in Scotland.

Quality Improvement Awards 2018