Contact Hypothesis and Schools Linking


Schools Linking is rooted in Social Contact Theory which has been widely researched since 1958. This research shows that contact between different social groups, especially during childhood and adolescence is powerful in overcoming prejudices. So the curriculum choices we make as teachers are vital and confirm the power of education to impact on wider society.


Contact Theory stresses the necessity of certain key conditions if the contact is to be successful in reducing prejudice. These are:

  • a meaningful interaction between individuals,
  • ensuring the equal status of the two groups,
  • opportunities for intergroup cooperation,
  • a task with common goals,
  • an enjoyable fun activity
  • includes support by authority figures eg teachers


Research over the past 20 years has shown that while face to face, direct contact is the most powerful form of contact and considered the ideal, indirect forms of contact are a very positive alternative. As a result of Covid-19, Schools Linking in 2020-2021 will only involve virtual or indirect contact. Yet we know that the contact can still be very successful, so long as the above key conditions are put in place, as they always have been with direct contact.


There are many different kinds of indirect contact:

Vicarious contact

This is where children learn about cross group friendships from stories or films or from talking with someone else about that person’s cross group contact;

Para social contact

Here children connect with a character, who belongs to a different group, in a film or on TV or in a book;

Imagined contact

This is where children imagine a positive interaction with some-one from another group


Here children are involved in digital/virtual interactions such a video calls. Interestingly E contact has some benefits, which direct contact does NOT offer, in that it enables pupils to pre plan what they are going to say and how to say it and then practice in a carefully managed space with teacher support.


Indirect Contact is successful as it:

  1. improves “confidence in contact”(put another way, it increases a belief that similar interactions will go well in the future, creates greater willingness to engage in contact and reduces anxiety about meeting others).
  2. increases a sense of similarity,
  3. improves knowledge of others,
  4. increases empathy and develops positive attitudes to others you haven’t yet met,
  5. reduces prejudice and stereotyping,


It is critical to ensure the key conditions for positive contact are provided by teachers leading Schools Linking, so we have designed the activities we offer with this thinking in mind. Positive experience in one activity will have an impact on attitudes held by your pupils towards others in any other linking activity. This process of a sequence of activities involving indirect contact helps to move your classes from a sense of ‘Them and Us’ to a more inclusive ‘We’.


Dr Lindsey Cameron from Kent University is Researcher in Residence for The Linking Network which is invaluable in helping us design the best evidence-based practice possible. She has created a range of webinars for us on Indirect Contact as which you can find in the Teacher CPD section of the website.