Led by Buckinghamshire County Council and supported by TLN, the Buckinghamshire Schools Linking Programme has been running since 2009; we feel this is an amazing project and without exception it has never failed to produce wonderful outcomes for our pupils, teachers, schools and communities.
In 2020-21 we continue to have a high level of interest, and we have already delivered virtual CPD to two groups of teachers who are linking with us this year.
We recruited seven more schools to the Programme for 2019-20; and also retained the majority of links from the previous year, in spite of staff and leadership changes. The majority of links were at primary age, with most of those at KS2 but we had one KS1 link and one with a Y4 class linked with Y2s. At secondary level we had two special schools linking with their neighbouring grammar school. Both links were in their second year and building on the positive impact of the previous year’s link. The lower class numbers at the special schools limits the number of students from the grammar schools who can take part; the Beaconsfield High link was oversubscribed, with so many students wanting to take part. In 2019/20 we linked 32 classes from 26 schools, successfully linking nearly 900 students from primary, mainstream and special schools. Schools travelled to neutral venues, including local secondary schools, community venues and outdoor spaces. One adventurous pairing visited The Great Moor Energy from Waste Plant together to find out more about what happens to the rubbish they throw away. £400 per pair of schools is offered to help them take part in the project.
Case study – Dr Challoner’s Grammar School and Stony Dean School
Dr Challoner’s Grammar School (DCGS) is a selective grammar school for boys, with a co-educational Sixth Form. Recognised as one of the leading state grammar schools in the country, the school has a strong focus on helping all their students develop into young adults with the right habits, attitudes and qualifications to take on the challenges of the rapidly changing modern world. Stony Dean School (SDS) is a community special school and a specialist SEN college for 11 to 18-year-olds. It provides its students a broad and balanced education that takes them through their transition from primary school and prepares them for the adult world. A recognised strength of the school is its strong focus on developing life skills and on preparation for the world of work.
For both schools, Schools Linking supports their shared emphasis on preparing their students for adulthood and their future community and working lives; senior leaders fully support the initiative. The link has now run over two years; in 2017-18 with Y11 students and in 2018-19 with both Y11 and Y8 students. Derek Brameld, Head of PHSE at Stony Dean and Tom Spenceley, PE and English teacher at Dr Challoner’s began the project together and with the extension of the project to Y8 were joined by Carole Black, Assistant Head Teacher Student Development & Designated Safeguarding Lead, at Dr Challoner’s.
Stony Dean School has well-established links with Amersham Town Council and Steve Catanach, Town Clerk – Community, Communications and Services, has been a key partner in the link providing a strong practical and community focus for the projects. Amersham Town Council also provided the neutral venue for the first meetings of the linked students. The proximity of the schools in the small town of Amersham enabled staff to meet easily and the planning stage was conducted informally over coffee.
The first year’s project focused on working with the Town Council and Amersham in Bloom. Students designed and planted a planting scheme for spring bulbs and then did tree planting. The meetings also included school tours, discussions, rock climbing and eating together. The students from Dr Challoner’s produced a video documenting and reflecting their experiences and their spring bulb display featured in a BBC documentary about Britain in Bloom shown in April 2019. Reflecting on their linking experience, students from Dr Challoner’s Grammar School have worked in collaboration to write an article on their time spent with Stony Dean students. Georgia, Tyler and Jack shared what they learnt from the link:
“Our experience of the project enabled us to meet new people and to develop our social skills. We learnt how to work well together in a team in outdoor activities, which also helped us to understand what is involved in some of the tasks that the Council undertakes. Lastly, and importantly, we made new friendships, had fun and enjoyed ourselves very much”.
In 2018-19 both older and younger students are working together on a project to create an enormous bug hotel, approximately 14ft wide x 8ft high x 4.5ft deep! Students researched and contributed to the design of the modular bug hotel and the Y11 group constructed the outer frame. The individual modules were furnished by pupils at local primary schools and the Y8 group then installed them into the frame to create the finished hotel at Pondwicks, Old Amersham.
Learning and Challenges: our top tips
Practical outdoor activities are a great leveller. Working together outdoors brought the groups together and emphasised the shared skills and experience of the students and the contribution they could all make to their town’s environment. Fun was also very important for initiating relationships between the students; the first visit simple but fun ice-breaking games brought the groups together and the informal atmosphere resulted in the being more relaxed. The practical activities that followed also allowed for a lot of fun. Tree planting and rock climbing were also great for developing trust and team work
We advise people to try not to be predictable with student selection and pairings. These projects offer an opportunity for students to do different activities with different people in different places and have proved positive for students struggling with day-to-day pressures from both schools. Keep the groups mixed throughout the visits and activities to avoid students drifting back to the comfort zone of their peers. Ensure that groups are small. For the Stony Dean students, small groups (6-10 students), enabled them to engage and feel comfortable meeting and working with new people. We also made sure that mobiles phones were left inside, to encourage communication at all times.
We scheduled visits as close together as possible. This was particularly important for the Stony Dean students, to ensure they remembered their partners. Pre-visits, preparation and careful scheduling were also important, (photos of previous visits were great reminders too!). We would also consider planning outdoor visits in the warmer weather. The summer term can be a challenge, especially with exams, but colder weather limits the time groups can spend outdoors.
What did the students say?
‘I really enjoyed the Stony Deans Schools Linking experience. It taught me a lot about my peers and myself that I wouldn’t be able to learn as effectively in a classroom environment. It was clear to see how it influenced every member of the project individually and even though it was a short amount of time, I felt its impact will be long lasting.’ DGS student
‘Before we met with DCGS pupils, pupils from SDS were very concerned that they would be ‘really posh’ or ‘too clever’ and that they would be made to look and feel silly.’ SDS student
‘After the third session on the way home, SDS pupils were saying “It was really fun… they’re just like us!” Then we discussed prejudice, discrimination and other forms of pre-judgements people make … this was a great moment!’ Teacher
‘Quick games such as ‘Splat!’ or ‘Two Truths and one Lie’ allowed us to develop our communication skills, quickly finding common interests with new people who have come from different backgrounds. We all worked effectively in a team, often tackling construction that required input from four or five people. Furthermor, in these groups, each individual began to show a refined level of leadership, whether this was skill sharing, such as how to use a power drill without losing any fingers, or suggesting different strategies for helping support the build as it grew higher and higher’ DCGS student
‘It was clear on our last day together, the construction day, that we were all sceptical about what we would be able to achieve, and we realised that with a bit of motivation, support (and a massive saw!) anything is accomplishable!’ DCGS student
This link has been very successful in overcoming prejudices students have about their peers from the other school. It has increased their understanding of the role the Town Council has in the community and how they and their schools can contribute to the town. Students have gained in confidence and take pride in the contribution they have made to the town and its environment. See the giant bug hotel in progress here.
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Yvette Thomas, Equalities and School Improvement Manager, and Carol Stottor