Development Education Centre (South Yorkshire) works with schools to raise awareness of how global issues affect everyday life. It developed a pilot project that used the latest learning techniques to foster greater understanding between Year 6 pupils from different backgrounds.
"Some of the secondary schools in Sheffield take children from both the mono-cultural leafy suburbs and from ethnically diverse inner-city schools," explains Clive Belgeonne, leader of the Building Communities Through Dialogue project. "By the time they first meet in Year 7 they might have already formed damaging assumptions about each other."
To counter this, the project engages 'pyramids' of one secondary school and four corresponding feeder primary schools. Pupils from contrasting primaries are matched to become pen pals, before attending sessions - at 'neutral' venues - where participants are encouraged to discuss an issue, ask questions and invite debate. Using methodologies such as Philosophy for Children (P4C), Clive says, "pupils are invited to dig deeper around the issue and begin to recognise - and respect - conflicting perspectives." Older pupils from the secondary school are also involved, supporting them during their P4C activities.
PHF's support for this programme stems from the observed impact of the pilot on teamwork skills and confidence. Disruptive behaviours that can be indicators of future exclusion were seen to reduce in participating pupils. Transition from primary to secondary school is a key time in a child's development, and the aim of this project to ease the process was attractive to the PHF Education and Learning team. The funding extends the pilot to a range of primary and secondary school groupings in Sheffield. The project will now evaluate closely pupils' perceptions of their school environment and willingness to mix with those of different ethnic backgrounds, and the impact this has had on truancy and exclusion at secondary level.
The grant provides for extensive research and analysis by experts in the social and emotional aspects of learning. "By engaging in this open-ended dialogic learning we hope pupils' self-confidence will improve as they realise they have something to contribute," says Clive. "It isn't always about a right answer: a diversity of views is beneficial for learning. We already have evidence that P4C techniques have a positive impact on behaviour and attendance."
Clive expects that, once established, participating schools will continue with the mutually beneficial collaboration: "Most schools recognise that anything that can help pupils feel more confident and integrated during transition is a good thing."