Great Sankey Primary School, in Cheshire, is a small primary with a big passion for all things global. Accredited with the prestigious International Schools Award and member of the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms project, we’ve developed a five-year strong relationship with our partner school: Thembelihle Primary, in South Africa. The school is a huge contrast to our small academy in Warrington, with over 2,000 pupils, all of whom come from very challenging backgrounds and communities. It is, of course, only with the dedication and efforts of the staff, pupils and school community that this partnership continues to thrive.
Almost every year since the partnership began, our school has sent members of staff over to Thembelihle to share in the good practice and work that both school communities do. Despite our different approaches to teaching and learning, both schools remind each other of the importance of inspiring young people to want to become the best that they can be in an ever-changing world. Our headteacher, Victoria Briggs, was the first member of our staff to go over to the South African school and meet with pupils, government educators and staff to share our aims, vision and philosophy for joining the Connecting Classrooms Project. Our motto – “Together We Learn and Grow” – encompasses everything that we believe in as a school and supports the idea of our pupils and staff learning together from this unique opportunity.
On my recent visit to Thembelihle with Jayne Wrangles, a senior leader at the Warrington primary school, we embarked upon a core skills programme to develop creativity and imagination in the classroom. Teaching classes of more than 50 and with little support, the staff at Thembelihle kept lessons creative and inspirational despite the pressures of meeting the tight demands of their own curricula. Since returning to the UK, our school has continued to shape the curriculum and ensure that in such a tightly packed school calendar, international work, global links and the core values that were evident in the young people of South Africa all become a part of our everyday practise.
This year, our school trialled “Theme Weeks” across the school year to further promote global and international learning links within our curriculum. As part of the topics “Peace One Day” and “One World”, children had the opportunity to learn about the apartheid movement in South Africa; studying South Africa’s diverse history and the work of Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela. They were inspired by the stories of those in other countries and have enjoyed learning of the historic events and experiences of those from different parts of the world who continue to make a difference, such as Malala Yousafzai. Lessons such as these help to shape young people to become global citizens of the future – not afraid to share their own views and be respectful of the beliefs of others.
We have many exciting dates planned to enrich our children’s experiences in school further; for example, by celebrating South Africa’s “National Youth Day” and also “Nelson Mandela Day”, where pupils will give up 27 minutes to help in their community, a minute for each year that the former South African president was imprisoned. Giving young people the opportunity to support in nursing homes and fundraise for charities teaches them the importance of being active in their communities and helping those in need.
The project also allows our pupils the opportunity to share their learning with their peers in Thembelihle Primary via Skype and pen-pal letters. Video calling is a fantastic way for the children to understand the life experiences of those living in conditions that are a stark contrast to the UK. They’ve realised the importance of inclusion, equality and holding high aspirations. Although video calls can be difficult due to poor technology in our partner school, communication is always supported by regular contact between our link teachers. Children’s pen-pal letters supplement this, as they enjoy reading and writing to one another about their lives and life experiences – teaching them what life is truly like in different parts of the world and how they can help to make it a better place.
Collaborative learning: a shared vision
Our partnership has allowed many collaborative learning opportunities between our younger and older children, building cohesion within our school. As part of a yearly planned activity, children are taught to compose and perform their very own South African drumming ensembles. Older children in our school then use the music they have learned to work with younger children, teaching them basic rhythms on the whole-class set of African drums our school has invested in. It is vital children are given opportunities to learn how other children in the world are educated and what their cultures are like.
At Great Sankey Primary, the Connecting Classrooms programme has helped to promote respect and tolerance and has taught our pupils about others living different life experiences. One child in school captured this perfectly: “It doesn’t matter where in the world we are from; we are all entitled to live in safety, be happy and have access to school.” The project has invigorated us to try and make our own, and schools across the world, more tolerant and inclusive learning hubs. We continue to fully embrace the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms initiative, and we look forward to seeing where it takes us in the years to come.
Tom Gawne is a Year 6 teacher, staff governor and senior leader helping to lead the global schools dimension of the curriculum at Great Sankey Primary School in Warrington