Led by Buckinghamshire County Council and supported by TLN, the Buckinghamshire Schools Linking Programme has been running since 2009; we feel this is an amazing project and without exception it has never failed to produce wonderful outcomes for our pupils, teachers, schools and communities.
This year we have recruited seven more schools to the Programme; we have some schools linking two classes, which is a first for us! We are also very pleased to have our first primary and special school link and some schools using Skype and video chatting to connect pupils. Currently, we link 24 classes from 22 schools, successfully linking over 583 students from primary, mainstream and special schools. Schools travel to neutral venues, including local secondary schools, forest schools and outdoor spaces. £400 per pair of schools is offered to help them take part in the project.
Case Study – Dr Challoner’s Grammar School and Stony Dean School
Dr Challoner’s Grammar School (DCGS) is a selective grammar school for boys, with a co-educational Sixth Form. Recognised as one of the leading state grammar schools in the country, the school has a strong focus on helping all their students develop into young adults with the right habits, attitudes and qualifications to take on the challenges of the rapidly changing modern world. Stony Dean School (SDS) is a community special school and a specialist SEN college for 11 to 18-year-olds. It aims to provide its students a broad and balanced education that takes them through their transition from primary school and prepares them for the adult world. A recognised strength of the school is its strong focus on developing life skills and on preparation for the world of work.
For both schools School Linking supports their shared emphasis on preparing their students for adulthood and their future community and working lives and senior leaders fully support the initiative. The link has now run over two years; in 2017-18 with Y11 students and in 2018-19 with both Y11 and Y8 students. Derek Brameld, Head of PHSE at Stony Dean and Tom Spenceley, PE and English teacher at Dr Challoner’s began the project together and with the extension of the project to Y8 were joined by Carole Black, Assistant Head Teacher Student Development & Designated Safeguarding Lead, at Dr Challoner’s.
Stony Dean School has well-established links with Amersham Town Council and Steve Catanach, Town Clerk – Community, Communications and Services, has been a key partner in the link providing a strong practical and community focus for the projects. Amersham Town Council also provided the neutral venue for the first meetings of the linked students. The proximity of the schools in the small town of Amersham enabled staff to meet easily and the planning stage was conducted informally over coffee.
The first year’s project focused on working with the Town Council and Amersham in Bloom. Students designed and planted a planting scheme for spring bulbs and then did tree planting. The meetings also included school tours, discussions, rock climbing and eating together. The students from Dr Challoner’s produced a video documenting and reflecting their experiences and their spring bulb display featured in a BBC documentary about Britain in Bloom shown in April 2019. Reflecting on their linking experience, students from Dr Challoner’s Grammar School have worked in collaboration to write an article on their time spent with Stony Dean students. Georgia, Tyler and Jack shared what they learnt from the link:
“Our experience of the project enabled us to meet new people and to develop our social skills. We learnt how to work well together in a team in outdoor activities, which also helped us to understand what is involved in some of the tasks that the Council undertakes. Lastly, and importantly, we made new friendships, had fun and enjoyed ourselves very much”.
In 2018-19 both older and younger students are working together on a project to create an enormous Bug Hotel of approximately 14ft wide x 8ft high x 4.5ft deep. Students have researched and contributed to the design of the modular bug hotel and the Y11 group will construct the outer frame. The individual modules will be furnished by pupils at local primary schools and the Y8 group will then install them into the frame to create the finished hotel at Pondwicks, Old Amersham.
Learning and Challenges
Practical outdoor activities are a great leveller. Working together out of doors brought the groups together and emphasised the shared skills and experience of the students and the contribution they could make to their town’s environment.
Fun is very important to initiate relationships between the students. On the first visit simple but fun ice-breaking games brought the groups together and the informal atmosphere resulted in relaxed students. The practical activities that followed also allowed for a lot of fun.
Tree planting and rock climbing are great for developing trust and team work
Don’t be predictable with student selection and pairings. These projects offer an opportunity for students to do different activities with different people in different places and have proved positive for students struggling with day-to-day pressures from both schools.
Keep the groups mixed throughout the visits and activities to avoid students drifting back to the comfort zone of their peers.
Keep groups small. For the Stony Dean students small groups (6-10 students) enabled them to engage and feel comfortable meeting and working with new people
Leave mobiles phones behind to encourage communication at break times.
Schedule visits as close together as possible. This is particularly important for the Stony Dean students to ensure they remembered their partners. Pre-visits, preparation and careful scheduling were also important. Photos of previous visits are great reminders.
Consider planning outdoor visits in the warmer weather. The summer term can be a challenge, especially with exams, but colder weather limits the time groups can spend outdoors.
What did the students say?
‘I really enjoyed the Stony Dean Schools Linking experience. It taught me a lot about my peers and myself that I wouldn’t be able to learn as effectively in a classroom environment. It was clear to see how it influenced every member of the project individually and even though it was a short amount of time, I felt its impact will be long lasting.’ DGS student
‘Before we met with DCGS pupils, pupils from SDS were very concerned that they would be ‘really posh’ or ‘too clever’ and that they would be made to look and feel silly.’ SDS student
‘After the third session on the way home, SDS pupils were saying “It was really fun… they’re just like us!” Then we discussed prejudice, discrimination and other forms of pre-judgements people make … this was a great moment!’ Teacher
‘Quick games such as ‘Splat!’ or ‘Two Truths and one Lie’ allowed us to develop our communication skills, quickly finding common interests with new people who have come from different backgrounds. We all worked effectively in a team, often tackling construction that required input from four or five people. Furthermor, in these groups, each individual began to show a refined level of leadership, whether this was skill sharing, such as how to use a power drill without losing any fingers, or suggesting different strategies for helping support the build as it grew higher and higher’ DCGS student
‘It was clear on our last day together, the construction day, that we were all sceptical about what we would be able to achieve, and we realised that with a bit of motivation, support (and a massive saw!) anything is accomplishable!’ DCGS student
This link has been very successful in overcoming prejudices students have about their peers from the other school. It has increased their understanding of the role the Town Council has in the community and how they and their schools can contribute to the town. Students have gained in confidence and take pride in the contribution they have made to the town and its environment.
Yvette Thomas and Carol Stottor