Led by Ethnic Diversity Services (Stockport Council), the Stockport Schools Linking Programme was established in 2008 and included Manchester, before they launched independently in 2017. The number of classes involved has increased over the years to a fabulous 54 classes in 2019/20, engaging over 1,500 children from 39 schools. The programme provides an opportunity for staff and pupils to celebrate similarities and be comfortable with the differences with schools from across the city and beyond. Stockport Homes have donated £5,000 to support our schools and there is also a Hardship Fund to help larger schools.
Headteacher at Mellor Primary School, Jim Nicholson and David Marshall, Headteacher at Cale Green Primary School, shared their thoughts with us on the benefits of linking.
Our neutral venues include: Manchester Museum (where children build clay totems for each school), Z Arts (where children use clay, dance, song, music to connect) and our free training space: The People’s History Museum (where banners for each school are created). Some of our partner schools are so close they walk to each other on visit days. For others, it can take an hour to travel to each school. Regardless of the distance, all have found common ground. Staff and children have shared experiences, have learnt from each other, have laughed and eaten together. Schools Linking has provided the structure for long lasting relationships between schools. Arden Primary School in Stockport and Birchfields Primary School, Manchester, have linked for eight years- an established link professionally for staff and for the children who have passed through Year 4.
“The Schools Linking project has enabled the pupils to see a different part of Stockport they would not usually visit; to hear about other hobbies and experiences they may not have heard of. It gives them the opportunity to talk to people and form bonds with a wider circle of people. It is meaningful and fun. “
Year 5 teacher
“The SLP is a really beneficial project because it allows children to meet children from different backgrounds, different cultures, different places and find out that we are all the same and we celebrate our similarities and differences.” Learning Mentor
“The best thing about Schools Linking is that you will always make a friend. Everyone has a big smile on their face because it is good to make new friends. “ Year 5 child.
Case study: Armitage CofE Primary School, Manchester and North Cheshire Jewish Primary School in Stockport have linked 2 classes of Year 3 children. This link continues this year as the children are now in Year 4. They have observed prayers in English at Armitage and in Hebrew at NCJPS – exploring the similarities and differences in how both schools express and practice their faith.
We’ve had lots of positive feedback about the programme, here’s a sample:
“It is a fantastic project which helps to develop the children’s intercultural competence!” KS1 Leader, Armitage Primary, Manchester
“It was fun to meet together and play games. I’ve made a new friend who doesn’t look like me but he’s just like me on the inside.” Year 5 student
“I haven’t done something like this before. I was very nervous to meet new people but I feel more confident now, and not scared of meeting different people. We are all the same really. “ Year 3 student at Ashbury Meadow, Manchester.
Year 3 Armitage Church of England Primary, Manchester and North Cheshire Jewish School, Stockport sent us The Tale of two Zacs.
Prior to meeting at Z-arts, a creative arts venue in Manchester, the classes had exchanged names of the class members as well as identity circles. From this sharing of information, the children noticed that they had different names and different interests and hobbies. However, there was much excitement and joy for two boys. They shared the same name and not only the same name but the same interest in card trading games. Who would have thought that two boys named Zac, from two different schools, one in Manchester and one in Stockport, from two schools of different faith, one Jewish and one Christian, from different cultural backgrounds could meet and have so much in common? The joy and laughter when they met each other, the shaking hands and shared ground of their interest in Pokemon made foundations of a new friendship.
After hellos and high fives the classes took part in warm up activities and games. One game involved moving around to music expressing themselves as a favourite animal. When the music stopped the children were to find a partner and share a fact about themselves or ask a question of their partner. Zac and Zach found each other time and time again.
One of the conversations went something like this:
Zac: Ask me about this… ask me about this! (Bouncing around like a puppy pointing to his head)
Zach: About your hat? Why are you wearing a hat? Why are all the boys wearing hats?
Zac: It’s not a hat, it’s a Kippah.
Zach: I’ve never heard of that before, is that a special name?
Zac: I don’t know it’s just what they are called.
Zach: So why do you wear them?
Zac: It’s our school uniform, we are Jewish and Jewish boys wear them. It reminds us that God is above us, watching us.
Zach: Oh so it shows your religion?
Zac: Yes, that we are Jewish – the girls don’t wear them but they have to wear skirts and not trousers.
Zach: Our schools not Jewish it’s Church of England – we can wear our school uniform – but we don’t have… what do you call it again?
Zac: A kippah. Do you like them?
Zach: They’re cool.
The conversation then moved on to which Pokemon they though had the best power and if they could be in the same group for art and drumming.
Whilst the children were interacting with each other, the teacher from North Cheshire Jewish School had been approaching her pupils to remind them to put their Kippahs on. Many of the boys had chosen to put them in their pockets on arrival and the class teacher was reminding them that it was part of their uniform. An opportune moment arose when Zac and Zach were asked to share what they had asked each other. The children across a large, brightly lit dance studio gave their attention whilst Zac and Zach retold their story. Slowly a trickle of hands went in to pockets as crumpled Kippahs were retrieved, smoothed out and proudly placed where they should always have been. Zac was proud of his faith and wanted to share a little bit of his identity with Zach and in doing so reminded all the listeners of the joys of seeing the similarities and celebrating the differences.
For the rest of the day Zach and Zac were inseparable. Drumming workshops, lunch and screen printing activities gave many opportunities for them to find out information like their favourite foods, favourite books, things that make them laugh, family habits as well as all the parts of their lives that are different through geography, opportunity, faith and culture.
One thing is for certain, Zac and Zach made friends. One Zac from a Jewish school in Stockport and another Zach from a Christian school in Manchester. They look forward to the next opportunity to meet when they can proudly and confidently show each other round their school. Zac and Zach will continue to find similarities and differences between themselves, their schools and their faith and culture through first hand experiences. There will also be some card trading taking place too, who knows Pokemon may be old school by then and a new craze may have gripped them both. Laughter, fun, energy and joy will be in abundance as Zac and Zach continue to build on their new friendship.
Zac and Zach met at each other’s school later on in the year. Zac sung the daily prayers in Hebrew as Zach listened and smiled. Zach spoke the Lord’s prayer in English as Zac looked on at the visit to Armitage – two boys linked in a new friendship; two boys speaking in different languages but expressing the school’s values, the school’s faith ethos in different but similar ways. They will get to meet each other again as the two schools have agreed to move the project with the class into Year 4. I look in and wonder… what does the future hold for these two boys… will they still have that connection when they meet again in Year 4? Watch this space…
Gemma Abbott – schools linking teacher of 9 years, Arden Primary School, shares her experience of the programme.
What has been the benefit to you personally from Schools linking?
The project has developed my understanding of the SMSC and PSHE agendas and given me a greater awareness of the national picture with regards to both of these. It has enabled me to visit another school and share ideas with a variety of staff with different styles. I have met some great people – children and adults alike – and learnt a lot from them. The neutral venue visits have given me great ideas to use in school and adapt to our setting. I have also learnt how to use P4C discussions in class.
What have been the benefits for the classes you have taught?
All of the classes that I have brought through this process have had one common thread – they have begun the process fearful and nervous and ended it sad because they will miss their new friends! They have gained a great awareness of other cultures and traditions and lost the stereotypes that they previously held (whether they were aware of them or not) of people from different religions and cultures. I have seen many children develop their ability to make friends and improve their social skills – gaining confidence as the linking year has gone on.
Do you think there has been a whole school benefit?
This is something that I would still like to develop. It has always been my project and, although SLT fully support and value it, I have been left to my own devices really. I have done one whole school assembly on it but would like this to be a regular thing (I have one planned for the summer term). I also intend to invite SLT/governors on each of our visits from now on.
Do you have a favourite go to resource?
I love the book resources – only one you, something else…
I always use the blob tree and I am poems.
Do you have a new resource that you wished you had in the past?
I like how new resources are being added and developed and I enjoy improving and adapting each year.
Jane Mullane Headteacher Mersey Vale Headteacher and Annemarie O’Dywer St Winifred’s RC Headteacher have been linking over 10+ years. Children can walk to each other’s school (0.8 miles) Tthey phoned each other and then typed up the joint response:
We have established a long-standing link based on trust and children and staff knowing each other. Even if staff change the foundations are there for a new teacher to build on. We have occasionally maintained a link between the same set of children for two consecutive years and this has really enhanced the relationship. Children become genuine friends and look forward to sharing experiences together.
Our school communities are very different. The majority of children at St. Winnifred’s are baptised Catholic whilst around half of Mersey Vale’s pupil population is Muslim. School linking breaks down barriers and makes children aware that they are all basically just children and have lots of common interests. Children develop friendships with children who they wouldn’t normally even meet, even though they live very close to each other and may play in the same park, go to the same shops and so on.
Finally we are keen to continue school linking because of its core values around developing a positive, cohesive ethos which helps children to explore identity, celebrate diversity, promote community and equality. The resources, joint visits, CPD opportunities for teachers and the general support from the school linking project are invaluable in this.
Colette Schofield, Year 5 Teacher, Gorsehill Primary Trafford has been a Linking teacher for 7 years. She has linked with two different schools, one for 6 years and one for this past year. As she retires from teaching to enjoy new adventures, she reflects on her experiences as a longstanding linking teacher.
I have absolutely loved being part of this project and feel so privileged to have been involved for so many years-for which I have to thank my supportive Headteacher. I cannot quantify just how much I have learned and how Linking Schools has helped me so much and in so many ways to develop as teacher. I must express my gratitude for the fabulous resources, books and ideas you have continually highlighted and recommended over the years. My children and the children in the rest of the school have benefited so very much, in every way. This project has also led to connections and subsequent participation with various other fabulous agencies such as Manchester International Festival-which has also been amazing. I have experienced so much and have been able to offer my children a range of valuable opportunities that, without Schools Linking, may not have been possible. I feel the SMSC/British Values and RE lessons I have delivered over the years, have been enriched by my own learning and experiences with the project. I will really miss being part of the project. I am so grateful for the varied opportunities, experience and knowledge it has offered me.
Contact: Julie-Ann McCulloch, Ethnic Diversity Service, Stockport Council firstname.lastname@example.org
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