It was wonderful to be together from across the country in Manchester at the annual National Schools Linking Programme Network day.
This is a very important day in the TLN calendar as it brings together all the lead facilitators of schools linking programmes across the country to celebrate the work we have collectively done this year and explore ways to innovate further. It was wonderful to welcome colleagues from the new linking areas to meet everyone from existing areas. Our National Schools Linking Programme Network now includes 26 local authority areas, 760 classes and reaches 21,000 pupils.
The Pears Foundation invest millions each year in good causes which promote understanding, engagement and wellbeing and have been consistent advocates for Schools Linking over time. We were delighted to have Sir Trevor Pears, Executive Chair and Bridget McGing, Deputy Director in attendance throughout the day. Bridget spoke about the importance of linking and the expansion of TLN’s work across the country: “TLN has been an important partnership with the Pears Foundation for over a decade…For young people to meet other people, explore their identity and build a community is vital. It is exciting to see TLN go from strength to strength and great to see more and more areas involved in schools linking.” We also benefited from the input and engagement of representatives from Department for Education and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government whose joint investment into our work along with Pears Foundation has been significant in catalysing growth.
Hearing about the exciting ways in which schools linking programmes are innovating and developing the programme were a feature of the day. Rauf Bashir, who leads the Pendle Schools Linking Programme, reflected on his work: “Most communities in Pendle are monocultural and this is reflected in our schools. However, it’s very encouraging to find that schools have been very positive about linking. Five years ago, we started with four schools and we now have twenty-six schools linking!”. Rauf also spoke about the challenges with the wider community and the importance of connecting the linking initiative with parents. Parent linking in Pendle brought ninety parents from across the borough together at an event. and it is now being trialled in other areas across the country. But as Rauf pointed out “Parent linking is not about solving everything but just the beginning towards greater understanding”. Kim Strickson described how the Kirklees Schools Linking Programme had woven Parents, Children and Refugees together with a theme ‘Carry My Story’ where children collected stories and carried them to one another. The impacts described were memorable and important.
Dr Lindsey Cameron from Kent University spoke about Social Contact theory and how the structure of our Schools Linking programme helps build Confidence in Contact as children, young people and adults make connections with each other. Dr Beth Breeze, Director of the Centre for Philanthropy at Kent University challenged us to make sure we share the ‘sizzle’ not the sausage as we reach out for both endorsement and fundraising. We had a chance to practise our elevator pitch about our local linking programmes – if by chance we are ever stuck in a lift with Sir Alan Sugar, we’ll know just what to say.
We were pleased to have an input from Kim Leadbeater who spoke of her role as an ambassador for The Jo Cox Foundation and the importance of championing strong communities and how the foundation is inspired by the optimism and compassion of Jo Cox herself, whose words in her first speech to parliament is as important today as it ever was: “we have more in common than that which divides us”. At The Linking Network we were glad to support the Great Get Together by using our experience of bringing schools together by writing #moreincommon classroom resources and assemblies from Early Years to Sixth Form in partnership with the Jo Cox Foundation which were available for schools to use at the Great Get Together events in Summer 2017 and 2018.
We were pleased Lord Andrew Mawson, who has roots in Bradford and a keen interest in community cohesion and engagement, was able to join us on the day to hear about the work.
Bishop Toby Haworth summed up the day and the importance of our work best by saying the following: “We are all aware that we are living in a world where people need to be brought together and where this is not happening then things go wrong. The idea of coming together through schools makes complete sense. This is your organisation. It belongs to all of us. It’s up to us to develop it and take it forward. The joy and activities throughout this day has been inspirational”.