Kent’s Schools Linking Programme is managed by The Inclusion Support Service Kent (ISSK), which sits within the School Improvement Team. The programme was launched in 2010 through the KCC Schools Website (KELSI) and continues to provide fabulous opportunities to Kent schools; 10 schools for the 2019/20 academic year, equating to 18 classes: over 500 children!
In the autumn and spring terms, we normally hold two full day CPD sessions, where linking teachers are introduced to the programme, become familiar with the excellent resources on The Linking Network website and have time to plan their linking year with their linking partner. The teachers leave the sessions very enthusiastic about the programme, with action plans detailing the work they will be sharing, how the learning will be evaluated, ideas for neutral venues and the activities they will develop for their linking days. We see clear evidence that the Linking Programme positively impacts on the pupils’ understanding of individual identity and the importance of not making assumptions about people they don’t know.
Although this year our linking was cut short due to these unprecedented times, a few very successful linking visits had taken place. Notably one which was held on the Kent University Campus. Many of the children hadn’t considered attending university as a possible future pathway, some had no idea of what a university was. However, during the, visit two groups of pupils were discussing how they would be quite interested in going onto college or university when they left secondary school, with one child stating: ‘My dad won’t want me to go to university, but I’m going to tell him it’s great.’
Hartley Primary Academy and Dartford Primary Academy bravely involved 4 classes in their school visit, this was meticulously planned with a carousel of forest school activities, including orienteering, art work depicting the similarities between the two schools and linking, making s’mores, photographing letters in each schools’ names found in the environment, building the tallest twig tower.
“The most exciting part of the day was making the twig towers, we may not have won but we tried and had fun, I even made a new friend” Creating Art in Nature: Depicting Dartford Primary Academy and Hartley Primary Academy together in a flag, all the children in the group liked dogs and flowers:
“The way forward building bridges”
The children had mostly overcome their fears and anxieties of meeting new people at the neutral venue visit “At first I was shy, but then I got used to them, probably because of all the games today” , “I enjoyed making new friends, even though I was nervous at first”
In their reports following the first class visit they were clearly more confident and enthusiastic about seeing their peers again. “Today I really enjoyed seeing my new friends and getting to know them better”, I am looking forward to hosting Dartford Primary Academy and meeting my friend again”. The children worked in mixed groups throughout the day discussing the differences and similarities between their schools and taking part in team building activities which encourage social mixing and interaction between children of diverse backgrounds. The day was a huge success, despite the rain, with one of the children summing this up perfectly “The project ‘Linking’ brought Hartley and Dartford closer together”.
Quotes from Staff
Boughton Monchelsea Primary School and Ospringe Church of England Primary School
“This is my second year of running a linking project in school and I’ve come to realise that the project is not just about getting the children to experience schools in different settings with different ethnic minorities. To me the project is about showing the children the importance of working together and building relationships. The school we were partnered was very similar to us in that it was a one form entry, village school with a predominately white British intake but that didn’t alter the way my children viewed their experience. They were still a little bit apprehensive when they went for their initial meeting and when they went to visit our partner school. They still grew in confidence as the project progressed. They still acquired communication and social skills whilst they were participating in group tasks with people they didn’t know. They still learnt to appreciate that everybody is different and that it is important to accept that and work together. The children still made new friends who, by the third session, they couldn’t wait to see again.
I also enjoyed the experience of working with new professionals who I could steal ideas from to help me improve my own practice! The training sessions, although similar to last year, were a good reminder of the purpose of the project with some new ideas to try out. They also provided essential time to plan activities with my partner school which would otherwise be difficult to do. The children really enjoyed the meetings and their questionnaires showed that they were more confident after a session than before. Their confidence was lower before session 2 which was the meet at Ospringe School and it is interesting to see how an unfamiliar location affected their confidence levels. Some of the children after the third meeting said they were sad because they had made new friends that they may not see again. I think experiencing different schools is an excellent way to help all children build confidence and social skills in a fun way. I think that the project has been a great success again this year and I hope to take part in another one soon.”
Ryarsh Primary School and Snodland Church of England Primary School
Ryarsh staff members: “This is the second year that we have participated in this project, it was a really positive and successful partnership. It was interesting to see how the children in my class coped with the experience, especially as those which I expected to cope the best, with the unfamiliarity of visiting the partner school, finding aspects of it really hard. We decided to focus on our individuality and our local environment and what it would be like to live somewhere less rural than Ryarsh/Snodland. We used the stimulus of the picture book “Only One You” to explore our place within society. It was interesting to see the children’s responses and recognise that each one of us, no matter how similar needs to forge their own way, with their own moral compass. One child did comment on a saying their mum tells them at home: ‘Why fit in when you are born to stand out!’ which we then used throughout our PHSE lessons back away from the project.”
“Exploring the geography part of the session was also incredibly successfully, with both schools able to identify with positives and negatives about their local area. It was interesting to produce an aerial photograph of their area and both taking 2 or 3 minutes to identify where it was. It was commented by one, that they should spend more time looking up, rather than down!”
“This year the project had many “unintentional” successes as well as successes that the teachers hoped to install. All the children at Ryarsh and Snodland overcame nervousness, acceptance and ultimately became resilient to the unfamiliar challenges that it presented. It was great for our children to explore outside the bubble of their local area, even though they were linked with a school only a few miles away”
Snodland staff members: “When we reflected on this, many pupils shared how important it was to be individual and to use our strengths to help others. Before I had the chance to mention working together, the children had picked up on the idea that even though they are different from each other, their shared similarities helped them to work collaboratively”
“This was the first time I had taken part in this project, so like the children, I was a little anxious of the outcomes. I must say that now that we have completed the project, the children and I have really enjoyed the process and for many children, it was their favourite thing of the past school year. At the start of the project, many of my pupils were very nervous about the idea of meeting another class let alone spending a whole day at their school. The neutral visit was an effective way to break down barriers and I was pleasantly surprised at their willingness to talk to unfamiliar children. They soon realised that they had more things in common than they thought. Children who I initially thought to be very shy, came out of their shell and I saw a different side to their personalities. I noticed that even though the schools are 2 miles apart, that many of the children were oblivious to the other school’s setting. One pupil mentioned that they had no idea that there were fields and green spaces so close to them”
“I was particularly impressed with the children’s ability to reflect after each session and to explain how their attitudes and ideas had changed in the space of a day. All my children benefitted from this experience and I hope the values that we shared will stay with them as they move up through the school”
Queenborough School & Nursery and St. Peter’s Catholic School
The ‘Linking Schools Network’, in which we partook, was a thoroughly rewarding experience for all children and staff involved. Coincidentally, the teacher I was linked with was actually somebody I trained with at University. Geographically, our schools are quite close to one another and our intake of children are very similar. Working with a class in the same year group at another setting, allowed us to have a look at each other’s settings as well as sharing this experience. The training session provided us with lots of practical ideas that we could consider using. However, by far the most beneficial part of this was the opportunity to have some planning time together discussing the project.
Practically, meeting at a neutral venue was not possible and so we completed a visit with the children to each other’s school, having also completed a ‘teacher swap’ for the afternoon. This initial contact was a nice introduction to each other’s classes, and upon completing work, allowed them to identify similarities and differences with their linking partner. During our sessions, we were lucky enough to have the support of Gillie for the duration of the days and we worked on lots of different things. At Queenborough, we are very passionate about the arts and so did some drama and musical theatre with St Peter’s (which was a new experience for them). We also completed lots of other work, had some time to socialise outside of the classroom and try some of the activities from the training sessions. During the return session, the children I feel were much more comfortable and less anxious and this in turn led to an even more productive day, completing lots of different tasks requiring collaboration with their linking partners.
Snodland and St Georges Church of England Primary Schools
“The Schools Linking Programme has provided the children in my class with brilliant opportunities. The children have been encouraged to step outside of their comfort zones and have all grown in confidence as a result of this. The children enjoyed all three occasions when they met with the other school. Whilst most children were a little nervous to meet new people, especially as they were the year above them, each meeting had great outcomes with almost all children feeling that they had made new friends.
To begin with, it was a great idea for just the teachers to swap. This gave the children an opportunity to learn more about the other class and ease any nerves. The neutral venue visit enabled the children to get to know each other briefly. Initially, the children seemed to gravitate towards their own class, but gradually they began to feel more and more comfortable with each other. Each time we met up with the other class again, some children went straight back to their new friends and others were keen to get to know a wider range of people.
This experience has been fantastic for me to be able to see my class in a different environment with children they are unfamiliar with, with some surprising observations and outcomes. As a result of this, I have been able to support some children socially, which is unlikely to have been possible had we not participated in this programme. As a class, we were lucky that our school has access to minibuses and are generally able to
travel easily, however the other school did not. Therefore, we travelled to their area twice. Whilst this was not an issue for us, it could cause other schools problems if they do not have the appropriate transport available to them. I have thoroughly enjoyed participating in these activities with my class and would be keen to link with another school in future.”
With many thanks to all of the teachers from these linking schools, for sharing their linking experiences with us.
Gillie Heath, Inclusion Support Service, Kent Gillie.firstname.lastname@example.org
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