The Faith & Belief Forum Schools Linking Programme in London was established in 2007, working across a number of local authorities. Our aim is to match students from different cultural or faith backgrounds in order to explore issues of identity, community and belief. Link days are centred around students improving their communication and interfaith skills (critical thinking, empathy, dialogue) and engagement has gone from strength to strength. This year we have had up to 52 classes from 44 schools. Five of these are non-denominational while the other 39 were faith schools. We work across 20 boroughs and see up to 50 teachers at our CPDs.
We use a number of neutral venues, including the Museum of London, the Royal Air Force Museum, the Willesden Interfaith Centre and the Hackney Marshes, and in the summer term, linking partnerships are set to visit the London Migration Museum, the Battle of Britain Bunker and Kew Gardens, among others. We’ve focused on pairing schools within any given local area, meaning that partnered students have shared heritage and geography and can take skills learned into their communities.
Teachers reported that they enjoyed being part of an interfaith network and appreciated the opportunity to engage in intercultural dialogue with their peers. Many appreciated the range of activities and ideas provided as well as the opportunity to model and adapt these before taking them to the classroom. There’s been a strong emphasis on reflection at this year’s training days, with best practice sharing among teachers themselves. In London we aim to utilise the broad range of the contexts to enrich linking experiences across the board.
London Linking 2018/19 has seen the establishment of multiple partnerships alongside the growth of well-established relationships. Both teachers and students have worked together well and positive paired activities have developed into successful social interactions.
Guru Nanak Sikh Academy & Moriah Jewish Day School have been in our cohort for years and this year continued to host well-planned and expertly executed link days complete with student presentation, pair and group work, structured play and meaningful bonding between the two school communities. On their second link day, one student commented that: ‘I’ve learnt that even if you’re a different religion or colour, if someone is kind-hearted from inside, you can be friends. It’s been great to overcome our fears and get to know other people’.
Another long-standing partnership, between North West London Jewish Day School and Islamia Primary School, saw the host children learning how to count to ten in Hebrew ahead of their first link day in order to warmly welcome their partner class! The facilitation of activities and careful setting of discussion round rules by teachers meant that a great deal of trust and openness was fostered among the students. The final session of the day saw an honest and engaging Q&A between the students who displayed maturity, sensitivity and curiosity. Of the programme, the NWLJDS lead Linking teacher said: ‘We’re raising a generation of children who will have been taught not to hate. I honestly think linking is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life’.
Some schools partner two classes each, as is the case with St Monica’s Catholic Primary School and Yavneh Primary. Before the second class from St Monica’s had attended their link day, they’d learnt the Chanukah song taught to the students from their own school, which meant the Yavneh host students had a pleasant surprise upon receiving them! We felt this was a good example of the impact of linking on a wider school community.
Another linking partnership new to the programme this academic year was Brondesbury College for Boys, a Muslim secondary school with the non-denominational, mixed Hampstead School. Our team have seen lead linking teachers facilitate the cultivation of meaningful bonds between the two groups of year 9 students, through a combination of careful planning and intuitive responses to the atmosphere in the room at link days. On the first day they commented on how well the students got along, noticing that by the end of the day they remembered each other’s names and began to make jokes: ‘There were one or two who are normally shy, but they came out of their shell and were more expressive. Some said they wanted to do it every month!’
The second link day saw the students strengthening friendships and coming together as a group to meaningfully tackle the topic of stereotyping and generalising, before working to produce group emblems, reflecting understanding reached about commonalities across the group and the diversity contributed by each individual student.
Nishkam School, another school new to the programme, joined the cohort with both primary and secondary linking partnerships. The first link day saw all four classes come together in a joint reflection session in the school’s interfaith centre. Students from across the classes were invited to reflect on the day and share prayers from a range of different faiths and traditions.
‘Without linking my girls would never get the opportunity to learn about Sikhism’
- Maddie Curtis, Lead Linking Teacher, Sacred Heart High
‘I might make a friend from this religion one day. It would be good to understand them’
- Year 4 student, Berrymede Junior School
‘[What I enjoyed most about the CPD day was]… meeting other colleagues from the other schools and hearing their ideas and experiences.’
- Mark Silkoff, Lead Linking Teacher, Moriah Jewish Day School
‘Everything went really well. We were very welcome and it was nice for them to have the opportunity to meet other students and see how another school works.’
- Omar Garney, Lead Linking Teacher, Gatton Primary School
Contact: Evi Koumi, The Faith & Belief Forum firstname.lastname@example.org