The Linking Network ran a test programme tackling a range of difficult conversations in secondary schools in May 2016. Over one term Key Stage Three students from three schools across the district were learning and talking about a range of subjects from empathy to Islamophobia, homosexuality, racism, the impact of media bubbles, the dangers of seeing people as ‘them and us’ and more.
The aim of the programme was to research ways in which teachers could work with students to create a structure for a safe space in which conversations around difficult topics could take place. The structure developed gave students the opportunity to voice their concerns or repeat what they have heard and for teachers to listen and add wider perspectives to the dialogue.
Following the programme teachers who had taken part stated how important the work is in schools:
“The programme has created opportunities to develop emotional intelligence and for students to reflect on thinking. I think we are missing a crucial part of preparing students for their future if we don’t do this.” “Critical to air grievances, address misconceptions and media influences.””I liked the idea the training template had skills, plus added content.’ ‘ A highlight was the real sense of emotional maturity of the students in the programme.’ ‘Student teacher relationship critical.’ ‘Essential to do this work.’‘I got to know my students better.’
Pupils who took part were equally in favour of the work:
“It’s very important to discuss topics like gay rights and refugees. We need to understand how other people feel.” ‘Need teachers to help us talk about what frightens us.’ ‘ Teachers can help you to be comfortable to talk.’ ‘Sometimes you need help to phrase what you want to say.’ ‘If you don’t talk about it in school you will not have built how to talk about it.’
The Woolf Institute, Cambridge and an educational consultant from Kirklees evaluated the impact of the programme with the aim of recommending best practice for engaging in difficult topics in schools. Resources used in the pilot programme will be available on The Linking Network website soon.