This independent evaluation study, by the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University aimed to establish a detailed and rigorous picture of the development of The Linking Network and the characteristics and impact of its Schools Linking model. Over a period of 18 months every aspect of operation was critically examined – the background context to schools linking, the schools linking model, the theoretical basis for the work, the positive impact of schools linking, and the challenges faced for sustainability and scalability.
The overall conclusion of this evaluation demonstrated that The Linking Network’s highly effective Schools Linking Programme has the ability to foster greater self-understanding, critical thinking, empathy, mutual respect and intercultural and interfaith dialogue and understanding amongst the thousands of pupils who participate in the programme.
The Linking Network schools linking enables children and young people to explore identity, celebrate diversity, build community and champion equality through the development of mutual understanding, critical awareness and openness, empathy, respect for difference and active citizenship.
The Linking Network ‘is run by experienced classroom teachers who provide relevant and informed Continuing Professional Development, learning resources and activities. It aims to build sustainable schools linking that is locally owned through a hub and spokes networked approach, whereby the central team facilitate, guide and enable the development of schools linking that emerges organically in different parts of England – local linking with national backing.’
The Linking Network provides teachers with a tried and tested means of addressing key issues in Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural aspects of learning, exploring citizenship, reflecting on ‘British’ values in an inclusive way and modelling future citizens. It provides an effective means of building inclusive patterns of social cohesion amongst children and young people and has the capacity to raise achievement.
The Linking Network establishes purposive, facilitated and sustained classroom-based contact between children and young people from different geographical, ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds. Schools linking is recognised and funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, DfE and Pears Foundation as a means of fostering improved levels of social cohesion at local community level.
The Linking Network has exceeded all targets set by funders to date, not only in numerical terms but in being a growing programme, reaching more locality areas, phases of pupils, types of schools, including special schools, and working beyond the school gates in the community. School linking does not occur in a vacuum. The purpose of parental linking is to bring together parents who would otherwise rarely meet, to foster greater mutual understanding, empathy and respect.
‘Contemporary schools linking relates to far more than ethnicity and seeks to foster dialogue and greater mutual understanding around a wider cluster of expressions of difference, including faith/belief, social class and urban, suburban and rural communities. These two factors reflect the ongoing development of TLN and its approach to schools linking and place it in a strong position to foster dynamic patterns of social cohesion in the coming years.’ (Shannahan, CTPRS Evaluation 2018)(2)
‘It has become clear during the evaluation that TLN schools linking has had a significant positive impact on pupils, teachers, schools, local linking programmes, the development of new partnerships, community relations and local authorities.’
‘The commitment of TLN to providing resources for schools linking and to CPD for teachers and local linking facilitators is exemplary.’ p15
Findings showed how much the programme impacts positively on pupil achievement:
- ‘Enabling pupils to thrive by promoting self-knowledge, self-esteem and self-confidence
- Preparing pupils for life in modern Britain
- Helping pupils to embrace ‘British’ values as defined below
- Promoting equality, challenging stereotypes and the use of derogatory language
- Enabling and a greater understanding of and respect for people of all faiths and none
- Ensuring that pupils feel listened to and safe
- Encouraging open debate whilst protecting pupils
- Fostering greater understanding of a pupil’s own identity and of pupils from different backgrounds
- Enabling pupils to become thoughtful, caring and active citizens.’ p10
We are indebted to the in-depth and rigorous evaluation of our work Led by Chris Shannahan, Associate Professor, who brought to the work a breadth of experience and who forensically dug deeper into our work and unearthed depths. As a learning organisation, we particularly value that the report holds up a mirror to our practice, capturing the essence of our work and reflecting it back clearly, to us and to others.