The Schools Linking Project is managed by the Ethnic Minority and Traveller and Achievement Service team at Gateshead Council and brings together schools of different backgrounds to help children develop a greater understanding of differences, identity and diversity and on how we can all live together. It is run in collaboration with the Schools Linking Network (SLN) in Bradford http://www.schoolslinkingnetwork.org.uk.
For this particular project, Shipley Art Gallery was chosen as a creative, 'neutral' host venue, where pairs of schools could meet and exchange ideas and understanding about individual, group and community identities. It offers practical art-based workshops based on the museum's collection, exploring culture and heritage though designing, making, sharing and collaborating in pairs and groups.
The day begins with icebreaking games in large mixed groups, such as 'All Change if...' The games reflect how group identities are based on arbitrary yet identity defining questions. Children from the two schools pair-up to work together on their chosen activities. They draw portraits of each other, design Avatars based on their drawings from objects in the Gallery and work with an artist to make flags, bunting-bearing emblems and imagery relating to their identity. Children also participate in design activities such as 'Weekend-me' portraits, which symbolically portray their favourite things.
The day concludes in a circle of chairs where children share comments about their work and experiences of the day. All schools involved return to their own school community and display their partner school's bunting and identity portraits. Teachers have commented that many children formed strong attachments to their partners and that the creative experience led to a more informed understanding of their partner.
The project culminated in a showcase celebration event attended by all the schools involved where the children talked about their experiences, displayed their work and performed newly learnt songs and dance. The work has continued in a variety of forms and the children have met on two more occasions at the schools, and worked with teachers and artists on topics like India, mining heritage, African culture, sports activities etc.