Building a cohesive community in an area where strong religious affiliations have created distinct cultural groups is a tough task. For religious education teachers in schools dominated by one faith, showing pupils that different religions can co-exist is also a challenge. But an innovative RE and ICT scheme at Uplands Junior, a Beacon school in Leicester, where the pupils are predominantly Muslim, has overcome many of the difficulties.
Three years ago, RE teacher Julia Ipgrave introduced an email exchange to encourage Year 5 students to develop a deeper understanding of Islam and become more considerate citizens. She created links with St Thomas More Roman Catholic primary school on the other side of Leicester, where the intake is 90 per cent Catholic. Pupils from each school are partnered and work together during the year in an inter-faith dialogue by email.
"This project allows pupils to express their own ideas about their faiths and share and compare those ideas with others," Julia explains. "It's all about community cohesion. Both schools were aware that many of our pupils had limited knowledge and contact with people of other faiths and we wanted to break down the stereotypes and ignorance."
Jane Gadsby, RE coordinator at St Thomas More, said: "After September 11 last year, our children didn't link the terrorists with the Muslim children at Uplands. The project has shown them that Islamic children are as normal as they are."
At the start of the partnership, Julia and Jane went through their respective RE schemes of work and found areas where subject matter crossed over. They developed a programme with four modules: an introduction during which the pupils become friends; a sharing experience where the pupils discuss special religious festivals; an ethical debate where questions such as "Is it ever right to kill a living creature?" are discussed; and a module focusing on matters of faith, where concepts such as angels are discussed.
Both St Thomas More and Uplands have suites of about 15 computers. According to Julia, the main problem in starting an email exchange is the technology itself: "All you need is an email address for each pupil and email facilities, but the hardest part is getting the technology on board and keeping it up and running."
IT and RE lessons arecoordinated so pupils can send and receive emails. Other activities have included joint assemblies. This term Uplands will invite St Thomas More students to visit a mosque. Julia is keen for schools to adopt the project, which has been nominated for a Becta Innovation and Change award.
Aysha Ali and Shaista Abdulla, Year 6 pupils at Uplands, completed the email exchange last year. Ali describes how she once perceived Christianity: "I used to think our religions were really different, but they're not. Before, I used to think that Christians believe in their own religion and I believe in mine, but now I like both because there isn't much difference."
Abdulla adds: "The project made Christians seem like real people. We use different names for our gods and prophets, but it's the same god and many of the prophets are the same."
Year 6 teachers at Uplands have noted that pupils who took part in the email exchange are more mature in their thinking and in their approach to lessons. They write in a more responsive way, listen to what others say and use questioning techniques to take ideas further.
For more information contact Julia Ipgrave at UJS@uplands.leicester.sch.uk