After fifteen years of supporting school linking, the Link Schools Programme has come to an end. Link celebrated the successes and challenges of the programme at a conference in November 2012 and have now launched an evaluation report: School Linking – where next?
The report, written by the Institute of Education’s Doug Bourn, and published as part of its Development Education Research series, explores some of the difficult questions facing those involved with school partnerships: what is the purpose of linking? Who benefits? Are existing linking models economically viable?
Linking between schools in the UK and schools in sub-Saharan Africa has been a feature of the educational landscape for more than twenty years, but it became a government priority between 2000 and 2010 with a variety of funding made available. NGOs became involved in school linking about this time, with Plan UK and Link the leading organisations in the field.
As a result of funding constraints and changes in UK government policy post 2010, both organisations ended their linking programmes in 2011 and 2012 respectively. The report uses the constrained economic context to explore lessons learnt and to challenge the industry to think creatively about its future.
The report findings stress the importance of recognising the differing impact of linking at either end of a parntership. In European schools the impact is more noticeable in terms of knowledge gained, in African schools it is more about skills gained and access to resources. Too often linking programmes fail to embrace this difference in their efforts to achieve equal benefit for both schools.
The report also focuses on the value added by NGO-supported linking models like the Link Schools Programme, which help to situate partnerships within communities and to act as conduits for access to broader educational support and resources. It sounds a note of caution to funders of school linking programmes who in the past have often created an inbuilt bias towards educational priorities in the Global North, over developmental priorities in the Global South. It calls on funders to ensure that they support school partnerships on their own terms, which by the nature of the bi-lateral relationship at their heart, will always be both educational and developmental.
As everyone at Link now bids farewell and offers heartfelt thanks to all of the schools and staff that have worked with us over the last fifteen years, we hope that this report does justice to all that they have achieved, but also provides a critical lens through which to help them and others to plan for the future.
Visit Link's School Linking Website to access our partnership resources and best practice advice on school links.
Read more about the Institute of Education's work on Development Education here.
Production of the report was funded by the European Union as part of the Partners in Development programme.