Special-Mainstream Linking

At The Linking Network, we are here to support all kinds of schools, to form thoughtful linking partnerships that benefit everyone who is involved. Special School – Mainstream Linking is an important part of the Network. We are sharing case studies here of different links that have taken place, with examples from Bradford, Bolton, Buckinghamshire and Tower Hamlets.

In BradfordHazelbeck Special School and Beckfoot School, were allocated funding this year from the All in Award.  Within the space of only ten weeks, they were able to bring together an amazing Performing Arts Link, leading to a fabulous evening performance for parents. The two schools plan to sustain this highly successful link into the future.

‘It was overwhelming to see my child in this’ Parent at Hazelbeck review meeting

‘It was such a special evening, very moving and full of such talent from both schools. The inclusivity of the event was brilliant and seeing the huge smiles on everyone’s faces was so special: ‘ You did that!’ The Hazelbeck staff were an absolute inspiration the way they make every student feel special, get totally immersed in what is going on and make such a difference. I was genuinely moved and loved the whole evening, such very special staff and students on show that made such a difference to so many people.’ Head of Music Beckfoot School

‘My favourite part was the interaction between students and the way the students looked after each other.  It was a really positive place to be… students get the vibe from you. Backstage was as fun as front of house! It’s what we love to do so it was great to feed it through to the children.’ Lead Teachers

In Buckinghamshire Dr Challoner’s Grammar School (a selective grammar school for boys) and Stony Dean School (a community special school and specialist SEN college) began linking two years ago. The first year’s Linking 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 students 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.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7l53sX7BqBo

Bolton: School linking between Pendle View Primary School and Holly Grove Primary School started when both lead teachers were invited to a CPD course at Burnley Faith Centre in October 2018. Both schools are special schools, based in east Lancashire, in neighbouring districts, and cater for children aged 3-11 with a range of special educational needs. It was agreed between the lead staff members that due to the backgrounds, needs and developmental levels of our pupils (all from special schools) that the linking would focus on social skills including meeting and interacting with new people appropriately, developing friendships; beginning to recognise similarities and differences between ourselves and others and celebrate/ begin to show respect for these.


The Tower Hamlets Linking Project (run by the HEC Global Learning Centre) began in Summer Term 2018. HEC Global Learning Centre focuses on work around local action for justice and sustainability in an increasingly interconnected globe. We work within and between schools to create collaborative, creative spaces where such action and conversation is led by children.

In our first year of linking, a range of types of special school classes have been involved: classes in special schools; special school classes within mainstream secondary schools; a special school satellite class based in a mainstream primary school. This range offers this case study a selection of models for future work and we believe that these models are replicable in other contexts.


Students practicing asking questions of unfamiliar people, in readiness for meeting their linking partners

The Linking Network resources have been used with adaptations, where necessary, so that  the activities flowed and all the children were more able to access the same task.   Both the Phoenix School teachers and the Marner Primary teachers consider these linking encounters to be a chance to develop great skills for life; and it’s important that the mainstream pupils have the chance to learn to be more patient and to allow for differences in ability and styles.

This has been a very successful trial that provides a number of learning points and replicable features for other contexts. The impact on teachers’ and pupils’ daily lives through the small changes brought about by the project cannot be under-estimated. Inclusion and a sense of belonging form the centre-point of our work, both for HEC Global Learning Centre and The Linking Network. Providing a project framework that can facilitate spaces where special need pupils are included has afforded opportunities for growth for all.

‘Our children share the locality they inhabit. Linking has brought them into a space that uncovers the wealth of intangible diversity within this locality– the diversity of world views, of multiple solutions to a problem, of forms of self-expression.’

Alia Al Zougbi, Head of HEC Global Learning Centre

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