The Bolton Schools Linking Programme is led and hosted by the Achievement Cohesion & Integration Service (ACIS), Bolton Council, with support from The Linking Network. ACIS supports children and young people who are new to Bolton to access education and see linking as a crucial contribution to their work. The Programme has grown over time, since it began in 2013, and despite interruptions to our linking in 2019-20 due to Covid, when schools re-opened in September we found that there was an even greater level of interest from schools than before – our numbers have nearly doubled from last year; we now have 83 primary classes linking across all year groups, from Reception to Year 6.
2020-21 started off last term with CPD training for teachers, most links had begun working together virtually before the current lockdown; building trust, empathy and understanding. We hope that they will be able to continue this journey in Spring/ Summer. We also have 7 secondary schools that were hoping to start linking last year, but will now be linking in 2021 . We welcome all of our new schools and are so pleased to be able to offer the linking opportunity to so many children. New and established staff are genuinely excited to be involved, finding significant benefits to all in the chance to engage with people from different backgrounds.
The schools linking project is well established within our schools but every year it amazes us with the impact it has on all participants. The questions the children have before they meet are the ones we expect, but it is lovely to see how these stereotypical thoughts are very soon overcome by all children and they very quickly become best of friends with many common interests discovered. They cannot wait to meet up or have contact again with their new friends. It is a very inspiring and heart-warming project to be a part of. The project as a whole helps to embed our SMSC curriculum and develop the children’s understanding of what British Values looks like in everyday life, which is key to creating communities who can live happily and successfully together in the one world in which we all love.
It was also wonderful to hear that the Y3 children at St Thomas CE Primary and St Paul’s CE Primary School had a fantastic time on their first meeting last year. These schools are both new to the programme this year, so a huge thank you to all staff and children for making the day so successful.
Case Study: St. Thomas’ Halliwell and St Brendan’s RC Primary Schools
One established school link is between St. Thomas C of E Primary School, Halliwell and St. Brendan’s RC Primary School. The classes involved in this link are Year 3. The two classes met for the first time during the Autumn term at Bolton Museum where they participated in a variety of activities in the Nature Gallery and Aquarium areas of the Museum. This included communication and teamwork activities led by museum educators. On the 25th April St Brendan’s came to visit our school. Once again the children enjoyed meeting up with their friends and together they enjoyed a visit to a local mosque and art activities. One of the teachers from St. Thomas, Halliwell commented on the link experience:
“We have met St. Brendan’s twice now. Our neutral visit was at Bolton Museum. Their coach collected us en route and the children got to meet their new friends straight away. The venue was excellent and all the children enjoyed participating in the various activities that they provided.
Comments from the children: Imogen“I have enjoyed meeting new friends especially Lila.” Muhammad Azeem “I have had the opportunity to meet with other people I have never met before and share my interests with them.” Malaika“It was great to play with new people.”
There is clear recognition from teachers and schools that this work is highly important, as these children are the future of a cohesive and successful Bolton. A wide range of providers including Bolton College, Bolton Museum, Bolton Arena, The Hive at Moss Bank Park, The Turnpike Gallery, Leigh and Bolton Lads and Girls Club in Bolton, support the Bolton Schools Linking Programme by hosting first meetings of the classes linking in a neutral space. An exciting development last year was Bolton’s first parent linking, whereby parents from Kearsley West Primary and St Andrews Primary joined their children in a visit to an adventure park in Bolton. As well as all the fun activities, there was food and refreshments for the children, staff and parents. Hopefully, there will be more opportunities for parent linking in the future.
Case Study: St Saviour Church of England Primary School and Brownlow Fold Primary School
St. Saviour CofE Primary School, Ringley is in a rural location on the border of Bolton and Manchester with 85% White British pupils, 3% EAL pupils and 3% eligible for FSM. Brownlow Fold Primary School is in an urban location in central Bolton, with 74% EAL pupils, 14% White British pupils, and 25% eligible for FSM. After initial contact through teacher visits and exchanging of work during the Autumn term, the Year 2 classes from St. Saviour and Brownlow Fold met for the first time in November 2019 at a neutral venue. They chose to meet at Bolton College, who generously hosts, plans and delivers a ‘Connecting Classrooms’ event at no cost to schools.
Students at the college who are enrolled on an Activity Leadership or Sports Leadership unit, plan various physical activity sessions to meet the needs of all the individuals of the schools which attend a Neutral Venue Visit. The students encourage the linking children to communicate and socialise with each other through sport and physical activity. The children have a lot of fun whilst getting to know each other, building on what they have discovered through previous exchanges of work – for example letters, poems and pictures sent earlier in the Autumn term.
Last February Class Two had a fantastic time meeting their friends at Brownlow Fold school. They took part in activities and games which allowed them to talk and find out similarities and differences between each other
Finally, some particularly exciting news: although lockdown brought an early end to some parts of the linking project, St. Saviour’s and Brownlow Fold have stayed in touch. The classes exchanged postcards and also a special message for Brownlow Fold’s Year 2 teacher, Miss Heyes, who has had a baby boy during lockdown
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ACIS (Achievement, Cohesion and Integration Service), Bolton Council