About The Linking Network
Based in Bradford, The Linking Network strives to develop and deepen young people’s knowledge and understanding of identity, diversity, equality and community, creating space for discussion of these issues within the school curriculum and supporting teachers to address them. Our Schools Linking programme is a structured programme of training, resources and support to enable pairs of schools to build high quality links between classes; we work with every kind of school.
We aim to enable children to develop skills of enquiry, critical thinking, reflection and communication, as well as providing the opportunity for children and young people to meet, build new relationships, work together and contribute to the wider community. There is strong evidence that high levels of meaningful contact between people from different backgrounds can reduce prejudice, increase trust and understanding between groups and lead to a greater sense of togetherness. We facilitate over 200 links (connecting 6,000 children) in Bradford and support a growing network of schools linking programmes in 29 local authorities reaching over 30,000 children. Our teacher training gives confidence to teachers and places the programme into the hands of pairs of linking teachers who know their children. A focus on engaging families deepens the impact. Each programme is locally owned, responsive to local context and builds effective local partnerships with arts and outdoor education teams who facilitate first meetings of classes. The work is supported by a library of over 100 tailor-made online resources. Pears Foundation has provided core funding for over ten years and along with MHCLG and DfE additional funding, enables us to work with other local authorities on linking. LA’s, NGO’s and schools involved, all invest. Evaluation and learning are central to the work. We also provide wider support for schools and teachers through lesson plans, wider curriculum resources, school ethos audits and work with #iwill on Youth Social Action and Intergenerational Linking.
During the Covid19 crisis, the Network supported work on cohesion and integration through the provision of Remote Learning Resources for teachers and Home Learning resources for children and families working at home, or for teachers to share with their classes or use with key worker children. There is also a section of resources specifically written for secondary pupils. The resources aim to develop well being, hope, resilience, critical thinking, curiosity and connection seeking to help children feel at ease with themselves and others. We have also created new programmes for Schools Linking 2021-2022 for primary schools and Shuttle Dialogue for secondary schools, enhancing our existing work on digital linking. We also have a wealth of quality resources, to which we are constantly adding; assemblies, intergenerational linking social action, book recommendations and SMSC reading to name but a few; do take a look!
It has really brought areas of the curriculum to life. It has enhanced ICT, English, PHSE and Humanities to name but a few. The children each year have forged amazing friendships with one another, some of which have lasted beyond the project. It has highlighted to me that the children may be culturally different or economically different but at their hearts they are children who interact with other children successfully and enjoy each other’s company. I hope that these links can continue for many years to come. Alison Hagen, St Lawrence’s School, Newcastle
Over time we have developed a carefully designed school linking process which has been used across the country since 2007. We support a network of facilitators who lead local schools linking programmes in their own area. There are now 29 such locally led areas across the country.
The process of supporting school culture and ethos has been developed through analysis of provision and impact on spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. We write and trial resources that support primary and secondary schools to embed meaningful age appropriate work on identity, diversity, community and equality in their curriculum.
It is our aim to signpost schools to excellent provision.
We are action research focused: learning, trialing and then disseminating our learning through our SMSC Networks and the National Schools Linking Programme.
Our work is structured through Four Key Questions:
Who am I? – exploring identity, including faith, as part of multiple identity
Who are we? – celebrating diversity, including similarity and difference
Where do we live? – promoting community and a sense of belonging for all: locally; nationally; globally
How do we all live together? – championing equality, challenging prejudice in all its forms and promoting active citizenship
Aims of Linking
- To develop and deepen children and young people’s knowledge and understanding of identity/ies, diversity, equality and community.
- To develop skills of enquiry, critical thinking, reflection and communication.
- To develop trust, empathy, awareness and respect.
- To provide opportunities for children and young people to meet, build relationships, work together and contribute to the wider community.
- To provide opportunities for adults who work with children and young people to share good practice, increase understanding of the issues of identity and community in their districts and to broaden perspectives.
The Linking Network Principles
- Safe but challenging processes
- Rooted in the curriculum
- Equitable benefits for all
- CPD for teachers
- Do no harm
- Support from senior leaders
- Promotes identity, diversity, community, equality
- Time for reflection to embed learning
- Children and young people at the heart
‘I haven’t done something like this before. I was very nervous to meet new people, but I feel more confident now, and not scared of meeting different people. We are all the same really.’ Year 3 student at Ashbury Meadow, Manchester.
‘The sessions really helped me to learn lots of new things; for example when I thought about identity before I just thought about passports, fingerprints and DNA but now I think identity is about much more, it is about a person’s personality and the things that are important to them’ Waltham Forest student.
Central to our vision is that:
Children & Young People
Children and Young People should learn to meet and interact with others in a variety of social settings, in order to deepen understanding and broaden perspectives.
Educators & Community Leaders
Teachers and School Leaders should have the tools and understanding they need to change the culture of their schools and address prejudice, inequality and segregation.
The Pears Foundation
The Pears Foundation promotes understanding of key issues through research and education programmes. They drive engagement in social progress across the UK and globally, particularly in young people, and support organisations focused on wellbeing for everyone, especially those with a tough challenge to face. Their aim is to empower a global community of organisations and individuals, provide leadership and resources to break down the barriers to progress.
Pears Foundation’s generous practical support has made a huge difference to the Linking Network. Their commitment in providing long term unrestricted core funding, especially at a pivotal moment, gave us the confidence and space to develop our work. This freed us up to develop and test approaches to training teachers, modelling good practice and linking schools so that young people can explore complex questions of identity, diversity and community and how to live together well. We have been encouraged by the Pears Foundation’s practical, active engagement in our work, visiting school links, promoting our work to others and acting as critical friends. Meg Henry and Linda Cowie, Directors
Culham St Gabriel's Trust
Culham St Gabriel’s, an endowed charitable trust dedicated to educational work in support of religious education (RE) and SMSC has supported The Linking Network. Their grants have contributed towards our Action Research into best practice in leading SMSC including British values. This has enabled us to exploring the links between school ethos, values, leadership, school improvement and the actions schools can take that can enable all pupils to thrive. We have developed a training course for school leaders – Leading SMSC and British values across school and training for teachers and initial teacher trainees and written a Toolkit for Leading SMSC.
‘We are grateful to Culham St Gabriel’s for the way in which their belief, interest in our work and the grant funding they have provided has allowed us to work to innovate and reach out to schools in complex, challenging circumstances to support them to undertake meaningful pieces of work.’ Meg Henry, TLN Director
“Culham St Gabriel’s has supported Schools Linking in its work on spiritual, moral, social and cultural development (SMSC) in schools and colleges. We continue to have profound confidence in the knowledge, professional judgement, expansive energy and professional credibility of its staff and consultants who have worked on SMSC. We have an interest in continuing to work with The Linking Network, particularly in the area of SMSC and its relevance to British Values.” – Mark Chater, Director, Culham St Gabriels, Oxford, September 2015
The staff training that you delivered to begin the audit process was an incredibly impressive session. You are very happy to celebrate our achievements but also don’t shy away from those challenging conversations in order to help us to ensure that SMSC is truly outstanding. I have appreciated working collaboratively with you both. This piece of work has been a very powerful part of our school improvement.” – Sue Pierce, Headteacher, Hazelbeck School, Bradford, January 2016
‘The government is investing in The Linking Network to develop strong and positive links between schools and communities. The Linking Network works in partnership with local authorities and charities and the Schools Linking programme specifically brings together children from demographically diverse primary and secondary schools to explore identity, diversity, equality and community. The programme provides sustained opportunities for children and young people from different communities to meet, build new relationships, work together and contribute to the wider community. Since January 2017, over 400 schools in 20 local authorities have been linked, with over 17,000 pupils in over 600 classes developing sustained relationships. We will continue to fund The Schools Linking programme to develop and expand twinning of schools of different backgrounds.’ Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper
‘We were delighted when DCLG approached us in August 2016 to discuss ways in which the network of Schools Linking programmes could be sustained and expanded through a partnership between DCLG, DfE and the Pears Foundation who were already funding the work. The network has now grown to 26 local programmes led by colleagues with wide ranging expertise enabling us to support and inspire one another in the work to enable children and young people to meet others they would otherwise not meet and in so doing contribute to society.’ Linda Cowie and Meg Henry, Directors of TLN
National Schools Linking Programme
The Department of Education is funding the National Schools Linking Programme in partnership with MHCLG and the Pears Foundation. The Network of linking facilitators, headteachers and teachers in linking schools are grateful for the support and backing of the DfE as they work to create meaningful sustainable links between pupils in primary and secondary schools of all kinds including special schools. Schools currently undertaking sustained linking prorgammes include local authority, academy, free and independent schools.
‘Schools Linking work chimes with the reasons many of us came into teaching and also is in step with DfE and Ofsted expectations that schools support the spritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils so that they thrive. The academic and personal development of every pupil is at the heart of our ambition for all our linking programmes. As a network of educators we are grateful for the backing of the DfE.’
‘Many thanks to The Linking Network for their dedication, commitment and continuing hard work and to the Pears Foundation, the DfE and DCLG for recognising the need for this project in the present climate and enabling our service and others across the country to make a real difference to the lives of so many children and young people.’
Gillie Heath, Manager, Inclusion Support Service, Kent Local Authority, 2018
The Linking Story
In 2001 leaders from two primary schools, Girlington Primary School and Eldwick Primary School in the Bradford District began to work with Angie Kotler, a literacy consultant at Bradford Council to plan a series of thoughtful meetings through the year for classes from their school working with staff from Cartwright Hall Museum and Art Gallery. The meetings were carefully planned to include dialogue and to promote curriculum achievement in the context of identity, diversity, community and equality. Over the next few years more and more schools chose to join the project funded by Bradford Council and the Bradford Schools Linking Project was underway. The model was rolled out to Tower Hamlets and an evaluation of impact was conducted by Anni Raw.
In 2007 the Ajegbo report The Diversity and Citizenship Curriculum Review was published and Sir Keith Ajegbo was commissioned by the government to look at potential community cohesion programmes around the country. He was commissioned to scope out community cohesion programmes around the country to identify good practice and when he visited the Bradford Schools Linking project he recommended the linking model should be rolled out. The Pears Foundation and DCSF jointly funded a new charity, named Schools Linking Network (SLN) to a roll the linking model out to 40 local authorities. Sir Keith Ajegbo was Chair of Trustees and Angie Kotler CEO. The roll out was successfully undertaken in 5 waves from 2007-2010 led by Angie Kotler, Linda Cowie, and a team based in Bradford. Sir Keith Ajegbo was the Chair of Trustees. Bradford Council continued to fund the Bradford linking work and in 2013 Joyce Miller became the chair of trustees, Angie Kotler moved onto other work and Dave Norman was appointed to the role of CEO.
The national Schools Linking programme was evaluated by NFER in 2011 who found that
‘the Schools Linking programme was considered to be highly cost effective in relation to the impacts and outcomes it achieved. The linking model can have a positive impact on many aspects of pupil’s skills, attitudes, perceptions and behaviours, particularly their respect for others, their self-confidence and their self-efficacy, as well as broadening the social groups with whom they interact. The sustainability of school linking is improved where conscious attempts are made to embed the learning across the school curriculum. LAs have a critical role to play in supporting the Schools Linking programme in schools through partnership working with advisors and schools at local level. The Linking Model can achieve powerful impact where pupils gain: Increased respect for others, self-confidence, self-efficacy. Increased knowledge and understanding of complex issues and willingness to voice opinions and listen to others, NFER, 2011′
The project has been identified as good practice during a significant number of Ofsted inspections and by headteachers and teachers who engage with it. The programme continues to evolve.
In October 2015 Bishop Toby Howarth became Chair of the Board of Trustees of The Linking Network, a new charity and Pears Foundation supported the work. From January 2017 DCLG (now MHCLG) and DfE provided funding in partnership with the Pears Foundation to expand the work to 6 new areas across the country at the same time as sustaining and expanding existing programmes. The network grew so that in September 2017 there were 9 new areas running local schools lining programmes and 11 existing areas were ongoing. By February 2020 there were 28 local linking programmes connecting through the network supporting primary and secondary schools of all kinds to create meaningful links. The Network of practitioners leading schools linking across the country bring a wealth of experience which is invaluable as the work continues to evolve and develop.
MHCLG commissioned the Centre for Peace, Trust and Social Relations (CPTSR) at Coventry University to evaluate the national Schools Linking Programme. Findings included the following
‘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.’
‘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 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.’