The work towards the link began over a year ago as the headteachers from both schools attended leadership training led by TLN advisors. Following the Leading SMSC and British Values from class to whole school both head teachers expressed interest in creating opportunities for their students to link with others from different communities. The two headteachers along with a teacher from both schools met with TLN Advisors to create a plan and it was agreed that Nahida Nazir, an experienced teacher now working for TLN as our Bradford linking project officer, would deliver parallel lessons in both schools to prepare the children to link. Nahida supported teachers and children to explore the key questions, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Who are we?’
Children began by devising Curiosity Questions to send to their link class- their questions were quite wide ranging and questions that children wanted to know the answers to included, ‘what is your class name’ and ‘if you went into space who would you take with you?’. Children then moved onto creating Identity Maps, where they explored their own multiple identities and thought about all the things that are at the core of them. Next, children in both link classes continued work around their identity, by writing poems about themselves. These poems entitled, ‘I am, I wonder’ along with the Identity Maps formed part of the collection of information about each child’s identity that each class exchanged with one another.
Through this work, the children in both classes began to develop a more accurate picture of the individuals in the other class and were able to begin to imagine meeting their link class before they actually met in person. This ‘Preparation for linking’ forms a key component of the TLN linking process and is rooted in social contact theory and the subsequent research findings on imagined contact theory. Across the Schools Linking programmes around the country, we have seen time and time again the power of photos and information about names and identity work prepared and exchanged before the physical meeting in preparing children for meaningful interaction and a sense of equal status and collaboration in deceptively simple but important ways. In training, we talk about the importance of the meeting days being fun and collaborative with the challenging work about misconceptions and stereotypes being done in school with the class teacher. The simple sounding activity Curiosity Questions has meaningful interaction at its core, with all children involved in the project being able to have a hand in and shaping which bits of information they find out about their link class first.
After exchanging different pieces of information via post, the time for this link pair to meet in person was almost near. Nahida from the TLN team visited both schools to practice the circle games that the children would be playing together when they meet so that everyone would be comfortable when meeting and in joining in with the games. Children in both classes were extremely excited that they were finally going to meet one another although some children admitted that the excitement was also mixed with some nerves. Following this groundwork carried out in curriculum time, the first physical meeting of the children took place at Cartwright Hall. Once 60 lunchboxes and coats had been dealt with, the day started with an icebreaker circle activity- Change Places. Students from both schools formed a large circle and were told to cross the circle if they agreed with the statement that was called out, such as ‘cross the circle if you prefer hot days to snow days’ or ‘cross the circle if you prefer PE to maths’. The aim of this activity is to raise awareness of similarities and differences in a lively yet comfortable way and begin the process of helping the children interact. The next game that children took part in was Visible and Invisible Similarities and Differences, this game further helped to reinforce that it is possible to find and be comfortable with both similarities and differences between groups of people. This game that has been used in Schools Linking Programmes over years continues to encourage and structure children’s dialogue with one another. The children rose to the challenge of finding out information about one another and some pairs even managed to find more than 3 invisible similarities and differences.
After the children were divided into two prearranged groups, the Cartwright Hall staff led collaborative activities inspired by the People, Place and Imagination Gallery and the David Hockney Gallery. The Bradford Schools Linking Programme has been working since 2001 in partnership with Cartwright Hall Museum and Art Gallery. The Cartwright Hall team share the vision of creating collaborative linking days that develop meaningful interaction and promote achievement. Over the course of the day, children were encouraged to work with link partners to create a poem which was inspired by each child’s favourite pieces of artwork in the gallery and each group created a lovely, shared collage of the gallery. Each school was given a collage created by the other group to take away as a lasting memory of the linking visit. At the end of the day, children shared their highlights of the day which included, “It’s been great making a new friend”, and “It’s been such a lovely day, I’ve loved the activities I did with my partner.” Before leaving, children exchanged poems they’d written about themselves with one another. They then bid one another farewell, already looking forward to their next meeting. There was an ease to the exploration of faith and belief through the linking process with these schools. The linking process undertaken by these two independent faith schools followed the tried and tested linking process used in wide ranging types of schools. We know that the preparation required for a successful faith school link requires knowledge and understanding of faith context from the adult practitioners involved and both schools were keen to work sensitively with one another. We saw children develop their curiosity and helping children be comfortable with difference and find similarity.