The Waltham Forest Schools Linking Programme is led by The Faith & Belief Forum and was launched in 2017. The Faith Belief Forum also leads very successful linking programmes in London and Birmingham, and is committed to making a difference to the lives of young people.
19-20 was this Programme’s third academic year and saw F&BF Linking 14 classess; engaging over 300 young people from a mix of faith and non-denominational, primary and secondary schools. Waltham Forest SACRE continue to be very supportive of our programme, encouraging our engagement with schools and also continuing to provide a free venue for our teacher CPD’s within the Town Hall.
The Schools Linking Programme aims to match students from different cultural or faith backgrounds to explore issues of identity, community and belief, based on their lived experience. Schools take turns to host their partner for the first or second link day, and many take the opportunity to include tours of or Q&A sessions in on-site or nearby places of worship. The third link day takes place in a neutral venue, a space mutually accessible and familiar. Spaces we have worked with include Lloyd Park and The Priory Community Centre.
The first part of this linking year saw some exciting Link days, including two visits to Forest School from their partners Eden Girls and Norlington Boys on consecutive days in interfaith week. Following the joint activities focused on the topic of identity, one student said ‘It really helped me to learn lots of new things; for example when I thought about identity before I just thought about passports, fingerprints and DNA but now I think identity is about much more, it is about a person’s personality and the things that are important to them.‘,
The three schools met again in the Spring term to explore the topic of diversity. Some comments from the students were ‘I learnt not to judge somebody just from one thing we know about them‘, and ‘It made me think about the fact that we all have more than one story and we should find out more about other people’s stories’.
One of our linking students wrote this letter to his friends during lockdown.
30th April 2020
As-Salam-u-Alaikum to everyone in Year 4 (My mum said As-Salam-u-Alaikum means peace be unto you).
How are you all? I am OK. Today it is raining. When my mum came home from work we took our dog out for a walk and we went puddle jumping. Puddle jumping is fun. My mum used to do it when she was my age. We all got very wet. Have you ever done puddle jumping?
Are you going to school or are you doing work from home? I am doing my school work. When school closed I thought that doing school work at home would be fun but I miss my teacher and all my friends. I miss playing outside with my friends at break time. What do you miss about going to school?
My mum has told me that you are doing Ramadam. Mum told me that this is an important time for you. Could you tell me more about Ramadam?
I hope that you and your family are keeping safe. Hopefully once we go back to school we will see you soon.
Some of our Linking partnerships even managed to keep in touch during the Covid-19 lockdown! Noor Ul Islam has two primary classes partnered with Noor Ul Islam and our Linking teachers worked together to facilitate the students becoming pen pals. It was great to see the children socially connecting despite physically distancing!
Partnerships on this programme have benefitted from close proximity between partner schools. The localised model of the Waltham Forest programme has meant that teachers on the cohort have a great deal of crossover in their own school contexts and can work together easily. The relationships formed on the Waltham Forest Linking Programme have strengthened relationships formed through other local authority initiatives.
Teacher CPD Feedback:
‘I have really thought about my own identity today and what it means to me, and essentially how important it is” ‘This was a reminder that we share similarities and that we are able to live with tolerance and respect with our differences’ ‘Dialogue is a conversation not a competition!’ ‘I feel more confident to develop meaningful encounter between different schools’
Earlier Link days:
We have two fantastic linking partnerships between Al-Noor Primary and Our Lady and Saint George’s Primary. On the first link day between two of the classes last year, students explored their own individual identity before sharing their findings in groups. After several activities and play, the OLSG students were invited to watch the Al-Noor students pray. Teachers guided the students through this experience, encouraging respectful behaviours. Following this, they visited the small church in OLSG’s local area, where students held a Q&A and explored similarities and differences between their practices. This was an opportunity for students in both classes to increase religious literacy, as well as practice intercultural dialogue skills.
Pupils were enthused about learning more about Christianity, now that they have friends from a Catholic School’ Lead Linking Teacher, Al-Noor Primary
In 2019 we were contacted by Louisa Parrales, the school’s first Lay Chaplain at Forest School, who expressed an interest in our School Linking Programme. We partnered Forest School with non-denominational Norlington Boys School, and Muslim-ethos Eden Girls School. After participating in our immersive interfaith dialogue facilitation training day at the Waltham Forest Town Hall, the three schools agreed to hold their first Link days at Forest School in the context of National Interfaith Week.
Link days involved a series of activities centred upon the key question, ‘Who Am I?’. Students from the three schools had the opportunity to explore and practice articulating their own identities, as well as to learn about each other. The day was a great success! What did the students have to say about their experience?
‘I increased my confidence in talking to new people’
‘I learnt more about the meaning of identity as a whole’
‘I have learnt that I have more in common with other people than I thought’
‘The session really helped me to learn lots of new things; for example when I thought about identity before I just thought about passports, fingerprints and DNA but now I think identity is about much more, it is about a person’s personality and the things that are important to them’
‘Next time I will sit with different people at lunch-time so I get to speak to every single girl!’
Linking teacher Will Lines told us ‘our boys really enjoyed the first link day, working with their contemporaries from Forest School. By exploring ideas around identity, they learnt a great deal not only about students from the linking school but were also prompted to examine their own ideas of community and belonging’.
As with the rest of the Network, the Waltham Forest Linking journey will be predominantly virtual for the academic year 20-21. We are working to tailor the programme to the needs of each school during these challenging times and are currently welcoming new schools onto the programme! Please get in touch if you’re interested.
Sarah Koster, Education & Learning Manager, The Faith & Belief Forum firstname.lastname@example.org
Evi Koumi, Education & Learning Officer, The Faith & Belief Forum email@example.com
Follow us on Twitter @FBFSchools
Or take a look at our website to find out more https://faithbeliefforum.org/programme/school-linking/