Together, is a coalition including BBC, NHS, Barnado’s, Scouts, Girlguiding and many others, which aims to bring people together, bridge divides, and hopes to build a kinder and more connected society.
A recent report published by Together shines a light on how the public feel about our connectedness as a society emerging from a pandemic.
The report explores the views of nearly 160,000 people across the UK via surveys and in small online discussion groups on what unites and divides us.
COVID-19 and the subsequent impact of a period of forced separation has been significant. Unsurprisingly we’ve all felt the impact in different ways. Many of us have lost loved ones. Many of us will have felt the burden of financial struggles or job losses or job insecurity. Physical and mental health may have suffered. For teachers, children and families, school life has changed massively. As we now take tentative steps towards a less isolated daily life the report has some relevant findings, particularly to the role of schools and our work as The Linking Network.
The results shared in the report are striking in that people’s experiences, their fears and hopes are varied but there are commonalities. There is a sense that society doesn’t want to return to life as it was pre-pandemic and that there is an opportunity to shape a different future. The report explains, ‘We can allow our differences and divides to harden and grow wider as we struggle to recover from the COVID-1 crisis. Or we can seek to harness the newfound community spirit that did emerge in 2020, to help build a society that is kinder and more connected.’
The report suggests that Education is one of the foundations which will play a vital role in moving forward positively. Schools are described as being in a strong position to increase social connection. They are seen as ‘places where children form friendships across ethnic, faith and class divides, equipping them for life in a diverse and complex society.’ .The report highlights that many participants believe schools could do more to increase the connections between people from different backgrounds. Segregated education was a theme which emerged strongly from some of the discussions, ‘So my local schools are 100% Asian. You go to the outskirts and it’s 100% white. I know that there is more that unites us than divides us, but with that sort of division it does breed suspicion.’ (British Asian participant in cross-UK discussion, May 2020). A majority of participants agreed with the recommendation that ‘it should be mandatory for children to engage in activities that deepen their level of meaningful contact with children from different ethnic, faith and class backgrounds.’
We are pleased that the report references the work of The Linking Network and echo the report stating that, ‘Schools provide a foundation for a socially connected society, through the subjects they teach and the values that they instill in children’. One participant stated that ‘More chances to meet people of all backgrounds would bring about more understanding where we live’ (Participant in public group, Yorkshire and the Humber, Septemb
er 2020). We know from research into the impact of our work that deeper understanding of identity and place emerges for those involved in the Schools Linking Programme. Key Actions identified in the report that it is believed will support children in developing the skills and confidence needed to live well together amongst difference include ‘All children should engage in activities that deepen their level of contact with people from different ethnic, faith and class backgrounds, through activities such as school twinning, sharing facilities or teaching, or by volunteering together’.
The report goes into some detail in explaining how their understanding of the importance of social connection is rooted in social contact theory. ‘Types of bridging/linking contact best at building trust & reducing prejudice are situations where contact is more sustained, active, involving participation in pursuit of common interests; supported by institutions such as schools.’ Implementing Contact Theory in practice isat the heart of our schools linking work and we seek to keep learning from research and that our work creating contact in schools is evidence led so we benefit greatly from a strong working relationship with our Researcher in Residence, Dr Lindsey Cameron, from Kent University. Lindsey has created resources for us on the importance of Contact Theory in linking work which you can find on our website here.
We believe the Together research is an important piece of research at such a pivotal moment for our society and look forward to continuing to do all we can as a Network of Schools Linking Programmes to bring children and young people together and engage families in the learning their children’s experiences bring.
The Linking Network currently works across 29 local authority areas in England and research shows our work is having an impact on the children, young people and teachers we work with. We are always keen to share the story of our work, please get in touch if you’d like to know more or are interested in exploring how the Schools Linking Programme would work in your area. Further information and our contact details are available here.
References to the role of schools https://together.org.uk/schools/