The Bradford Schools Linking Programme is led by The Linking Network. The Programme began in 2001 with two schools linking through a full school year, working in partnership with Bradford Council and the Bradford Museums Service. The number of schools involved has increased over time so that this year 103 classes are engaged in linking, connecting 76 primary classes and 27 secondary classes (19 of these Church of England and 2 Catholic); engaging 2,698 children across 45 primary schools and 12 secondary schools. This year we are exploring parent linking: more to follow!
Bradford Primary Schools
In the Bradford Primary Schools Linking Programme most pairs follow the traditional linking model and meeting at least three times over the course of the year. Our neutral venues include: Nell Bank, Cartwright Hall, Cliffe Castle, Kala Sangam and Bradford Cathedral.
Prior to their first meeting, children take part in identity work in class through the exploration of the two key questions: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Who are we?’ This exploration of identity and the exchange of work between link classes, lays a positive foundation ready for the children to meet for the first time.
During the Spring and Summer terms, children explore community and equality through the last two key questions: ‘Where do we live? and ‘How do we all live together?’ Further exchange of work between link classes takes place as well as class visits.
How we feel about the programme
“This year I have found myself in a really fortunate position and have been delighted to have been able to support the Bradford Primary Linking Project as well as leading linking in my own school. Providing children with an opportunity to have meaningful interaction with others from a different background to themselves from a young age is vital, as I believe that it is these interactions that help to drive out any misconceptions that individuals may have about others. I feel great pride in being part of a programme that has our young children at the heart of it and aims to create an integrated and harmonious society”.
Nahida Nazir, Primary Advisory Teacher, Bradford
Primary School Case Study: Nessfield Primary School and Heaton St Barnabas
Both schools are new to the linking programme and it has been a real pleasure to see the link develop between this pair as the year has progressed. Initially, there were some nerves (which were to be expected) on both sides, with children not really sure as to what they should expect and some feeling hesitant to meet others that they’d never met before. These nerves soon dissipated as the children got to know each other a little better through the exchange of curiosity questions and poems. The children even took part in Skype calls and exchanged videos, which served to enhance the linking experience. This preparation work was absolutely integral as it helped to build the sense of equal status, shared goals and lay the groundwork for easier meaningful interaction so that the children were ready to meet for the first time.
By the time the children first met at Nell Bank, they were eager to put faces to names and even the shyest of pupils were eager to share what they had found out about their link partner when they got back to school. “I couldn’t sleep last night. That happens to me when I’m super excited, I can’t wait!” chattered one child.
During the course of the day, the children took part in a range of activities where they had many opportunities to find out more about one another. Activities included a scavenger hunt, a woods walk and playing on the adventure playground but the purpose throughout was meaningful interaction between the two groups of children.
Since this first very successful visit, children have gone on to meet a further three times (at Cartwright Hall and then at one another’s schools), with relationships between link pairs really flourishing and a real buzz of excitement filling the classrooms any time linking is mentioned.
As well as relationships developing between link pairs, many children have spoken about how linking has impacted directly on their level of confidence and their ability to talk to new people. For the children at Nessfield and Heaton St Barnabas linking has been a really welcomed addition to the Year 4 curriculum with many children citing linking as a particular highlight of the year.
“It’s great to see those children that are normally quite shy to come out of their shells and be more confident. It’s been wonderful.”
Year 3 Linking Teacher
“I feel like linking has helped me go and speak to new people. At the start of the year I would have been too scared to do that.”
Year 4 Child
“The advice that I would give to someone who is going to be linking next year is don’t let your nerves stop you from talking to someone new as you might end up making a really great friend.”
Year 4 child
“The Schools Linking Project has been a fantastic opportunity for the children at Nessfield. It’s been quite a while since we’ve actually done a project such as this and just the chance for our year 4s to get outside the four walls of school into the wider community and meet so many different children from lots of different backgrounds has been amazing. They’re coming back into school totally buzzing about everything they’ve been doing and talking about the special friendships they’ve had…I can’t recommend it highly enough- it’s been brilliant!”
Linda Hanson, Headteacher of Nessfield Primary School
Bradford Secondary Schools
Secondary Schools Linking is a unique opportunity, crafting a safe space for students who would not normally get a chance to know each other- through joint activities on link days. The programme encourages pupils to feel confident and curious as they meet people of different cultures, faiths and beliefs. It also aims to instil recognition and respect for diversity and a meaningful encounter for both students and staff.
Secondary linking can be a way to enhance aspects of SMSC, PSHCE, British Values and Religious Literacy provision within a school. It can be rooted in the curriculum to ensure pupils make progress through collaborative work.
We try to offer creative and bespoke ways to help as many secondary schools to take part in linking. Some of the things that we did this year include:
- navigating an assault course through perseverance and team work in the Yorkshire countryside,
- pupils using their debating skills to tackle GCSE questions in the ‘RE Superstar’ conference
- a whole morning of collaborative problem solving in a Year 8 Maths Challenge
Secondary School Case Study: Grange – Buttershaw First Linking Meeting Dec 2017
These two schools are a mere mile apart. However, pupil demographics are quite different. Teachers from each school met at our linking launch in September and immediately felt that linking would be a great idea. Over the course of the next few months there were planning meetings, questions and some anxiety. “Would the pupils get along? What would happen if..?”
By the time of the neutral venue visit, there was some trepidation as one school was not present and more anxiety ensued. Then a phone call and we were told that the minibus was stuck in traffic. Sighs of relief and then it all started. Everything seemed to be going well, pupils were bonding and then a shriek… Trying not to panic, all the adults followed the sound…another shriek:
“She’s the Grange version of me!” It seemed it was just uncontained excitement as two pupils were bonding over The Vampire Diaries.
The first event went so well that teachers were sending positive feedback to each other on the ride home.
During this year, pupils reflected on identity and commonality (Who am I? Who are we?) and reflected on the importance of Human Rights (How do we all live together?). They took part in activities, which encouraged structured dialogue sessions and collaborative work on creative projects. One of the activities that they enjoyed involved the making of a 3D structure to represent the Human Right that they felt was most important to them. The last link meeting will be a celebration of the year together and will involve a ‘Great British Bake Off’ style challenge!
RE Conference, April 2018
Year 10 pupils from Bradford Girls Grammar School and Bradford Academy came together to work on demanding GCSE style questions but there wasn’t a notebook in sight. Instead pupils were encouraged to reflect on deeper questions through activities promoting structured dialogue.
By the end of the day; pupils felt a lot more confident about GCSE questions which require detailed evaluation and analysis. At the same time, it was a great opportunity to link pupils from two different schools together and an absolute pleasure to watch them work so well in collaboration.
Students had to tackle questions like: Why would an Omnipotent Creator allow evil to occur? Do we really have Free Will? Is there life after death?
We were also fortunate to have valuable contributions from Chaplains who work in Bradford’s hospitals. Joe Fielder and Maryam Riaz shared their experiences of counselling patients through very difficult times and how they are motivated by their faith to help others of all faith and no faith. The chaplains were also able to give their views on suffering and how through the darkest moments of human existence we can always find hope.
Shabnam Khalique who is an RE specialist and middle leader at Bradford Academy had the following to say about the conference:
“We managed to meet with our learners to debrief and everyone was extremely positive about the session. Many commented on feeling RE had been given a purpose, the session being pitched perfectly (not too hard or too easy), mixing with other students and having the chance to look at RE without feeling exam pressures.
From a teaching point of view, I definitely feel inspired and loved linking with another school. It was a brilliant session”.
Bradford Diocese Academies Trust (BDAT) Maths Challenge, February- April 2018
One teacher who was working in one of the academies within BDAT was really interested in linking with other schools. Especially as her previous experience of linking with other schools through a Maths Competition did not involve any real interaction between pupils of different schools and different backgrounds. Also, her school came last!
In the Maths Challenge that we trialled, students met prior to the challenge to work on identity and dialogue through team building activities at a neutral venue. This pre-session was all about building relationships and not maths, hence there was not a compass or calculator in sight!
Following this we had a Maths Challenge across a whole day. Pupils were working in small groups with representatives from four schools. There were also sixth form helpers to facilitate the challenge from all the different schools. Year 8 pupils were overwhelmingly positive about the whole experience:
‘At first I thought that there was no point in linking with them because they’re so different from us. But I changed my mind after I met them as I really enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to today.’
‘I didn’t want to link as their school is so different from ours. But then we linked, and the students were really friendly. I realised that they were…what’s the word…humble I guess? They’re definitely different to how I imagined them to be.’
‘The more we meet, the better we’ll become at talking to them. I think they’ll help us to become more confident.’
‘I am a proud Bradfordian who has been living and working in Bradford for most of my life. I have a real passion for the city I call home and often find myself championing Bradford whenever I get a chance. However, despite this enthusiasm, I know that Bradford like many areas of the UK has its fair share of problems. I am worried about social mobility and like many, I too am concerned about a lack of integration and segregation in schools and the wider community. The Bradford I grew up was not always like this and I sincerely believe that I have benefited from such diversity.
I feel that sustained linking which is well structured and meaningful; especially as our children are younger adults will create better integration and a more harmonious society. Especially since discrimination arises when a whole culture, faith or race is portrayed as a Monolithic bloc. Having a well-structured experience of working with people of a different backgrounds makes it much harder to conclude that they can all be dismissed as one and the same.’ Azam Ali, Advisory Teacher, Bradford.
Hazelbeck and Beckfoot Special-Mainstream Link
Hazelbeck and Beckfoot were allocated some funding from the All in Award which has enabled them to form an amazing Performing Arts Link with a 10 week after school club for students leading to an amazing evening performance for parents. The two schools plan to sustain this highly successful link into the future.
How did it start?
The Headteacher of Hazelbeck Special School was told there was funding from the All in Award to link the two schools by creating a 10 week after school club bringing mainstream and special school pupils to learn together. The school is co-located with Beckfoot School, a mainstream school in the same academy trust and the two schools believed this opportunity would be valuable for everyone involved. There had been a successful joint concert the year before to raise money for Martin House, a local hospice for children and young people, so the special school headteacher approached the school’s Performing Arts Lead who in turn reached out to the performing arts teacher in the mainstream school to see if they would be willing to take on the project- and they both agreed!
These two performing arts teachers in the two co-located schools already knew one another well and when they were asked by their school leadership if they would like to create connections between students from the two schools through a performing arts after-school club, they were delighted.
What did they do?
The 10 week long after-school performing arts club was launched with a clear plan to work towards a performance for families from both schools at the end of the spring term. 10 places for each school were offered to Year 7 and 8 students and10 students from each school signed up with parental agreement to take part. Sorting transport home was necessary as it was to be held after school. 6 additional members of staff from the special school and 1 member of staff from the mainstream supported the two performing arts lead teachers. Three ensemble pieces that would include all the students were choreographed and rehearsed at the club. The adults and the young people all had ideas which were taken onboard in the plans, so it genuinely included student leadership.
Auditions were held for the opportunity to perform solo or in groups so that the teachers could help students select songs that would work for their voices – they allocated songs and students practised in their own time. Rehearsals saw students looking out for one another and working together. ‘We saw students look out for each other and in so doing let go of themselves.’On the day of the show a group of Hazelbeck students suggested they perform an additional song- we listened to them and decided, ‘you know what let’s go with this and we were so glad we did!’ commented the Lead Teachers, ‘It was a joy!”.
Costumes were bought and a professionally designed, bespoke light sequence was made to accompany all the performers which made a huge difference to the quality of the performance. The choreography was led by one of the teachers and then modified as needed for different students. Makaton sign language was woven in. Ensemble songs chosen included: A Million Dreams from The Greatest Showman; Waving through a Window and Naughty from Matilda.
The final performance was held in April and was a wonderful evening attended by many parents, carers, family and friends as well as senior leaders and The Linking Network team. After the performance a session was held with the students together to reflect and plan forwards to keep the club going and decide what to do next! Students and adults shared their favourite parts of the process.
What did people say about the work?
‘I didn’t know she could sing.’ ‘I loved seeing the children on stage.’ ‘I was so proud to see them on stage.’ Parents from both schools
‘High standards were being expected across the board and completely scaffolded.’ observed an advisory teacher from TLN.
‘The performance was joyful and varied, warm and friendly, yet professional, high quality yet relaxed! So many elements were combined with skill and flair.’ ‘Everyone in the audience was so obviously behind every student.’ TLN advisor who attended the performance.
‘It was overwhelming to see my child in this’ Parent at Hazelbeck Review meeting
‘It was such a special evening, very moving and full of such talent from both schools. The inclusivity of the event was brilliant and seeing the huge smiles on everyone’s faces was so special. You did that. The Hazelbeck staff were an absolute inspiration, the way they make every student feel special, get totally immersed in what is going on and make such a difference. I was genuinely moved and loved the whole evening, such very special staff and students on show that made such a difference to so many people.’ Head of Music at Beckfoot School
My favourite part was the interaction between students and the way the students looked after each other.’ ‘It was a really positive place to be. Students get the vibe from you. Backstage was as fun as front of house! It’s what we love to do so it was great to feed it through to the children.’Lead Teachers
The club was observed by Ofsted who wrote the following- ‘Pupils take part enthusiastically in a wide range of lunchtime clubs, after-school activities, musical performances and residential visits. These activities are highly valued by parents.’ Hazelbeck Ofsted Inspection Report March 2019
Link teachers with the same specialism able to team teach both their groups of students meeting over time built connections.
The relationships underpinned the work. People enjoyed being there to help. Everyone made suggestions and ideas which we took on board.
The funding helped – to have a budget line for props, costumes, light and sound, tea for the kids the evening of the performance. The professional lighting lifted it.
People pulled together to help the performance be the best it could be – the photographer, the Head of Music, the arts department, Senior Leaders
Good admin! Emails and reminders to students were needed.
We saw resilience, support, independence, student led decisions, a real commitment to learning. Students wanted the challenge.’
We didn’t want it to be separate schools. We wanted it to keep integrity. Students need a challenge and want a challenge.
Senior Leadership were supportive – we were given half a day out of class for the rehearsal and they often popped in to enjoy the club!
High expectations- obvious that they were really trying to learn – picked up the dancing
Having an opportunity to create such an uplifting environment was wonderful. The buzz that you have as adults when you have an opportunity to pass on skills, share your passion and give something away. It wasn’t a hardship. Going with your talents and sharing your passion!
The All in Award was created by Mencap with funding from Vanquis Bank. The Linking Network recruited the schools to the programme and have written this case study to share the learning.
Nahida Nazir (Primary) and Azam Ali (Secondary), with Linda Cowie, Meg Henry, Carly Moran and Liz Firth, The Linking Network