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Picture for Millburn Primary School, Coleraine partner with Westlake PS in Capetown

Millburn PS Coleraine collaborates with Westlake PS in Cape Town

Millburn Primary School in Coleraine first heard about the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning (CCGL) programme at a Shared Education event held in Northern Ireland during 2020. Brendan Finnegan, a P6 teacher of 9 years at Millburn Primary School and Shared Education Coordinator spotted an opportunity to work with the Global Learning Schools team, part of the Centre for Global Education. Brendan expressed a desire to embed global learning deeper in both his classroom and throughout the whole school, particularly as global learning fits with many other curriculum-based subjects, like PDMU, WAU, Geography, RE and more.

After chatting with Anna Grindle, one of our Global Learning Schools Advisors, Millburn Primary School signed up to be part of the CCGL programme, funded by the British Council and Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). A decision was made to engage in the International Partnership (IP) element of the programme, but as a single school rather than joining an existing cluster of schools given that both Millburn’s and Brendan’s global learning journey was already underway through participation in previous programmes, as well as having already received an ‘Intermediate International Award’ from the British Council in 2019. As a school, and lead teacher, they felt sufficiently confident that the skill set amongst staff could be utilised to deliver a highly effective IP programme, as an independent one to one partnership.

We talked at length with Brendan Finnegan, Millburn’s lead IP teacher to ask about his passion for global learning and why in particular he chose to engage in an international schools partnership.

“Millburn has previous experience in linking up with international schools across Europe. Ian Gilchrist our International Language Coordinator has successfully developed links with Colegio Garcia Quintana, Valladolid, Spain. Additionally, several staff have undertaken global learning training with the Centre for Global Education before, so the CCGL programme offered us the perfect opportunity to take a subject we love even further."

After digging deep into their desired partner school preferences, our CCGL advisors learned that Millburn wanted to partner with a school that had access to good IT resources, so they could communicate in real time and as effectively as possible, sharing their project output by using digital capabilities. As a result, they were partnered with Westlake Primary School in Cape Town, South Africa, where relations with the lead teachers there, Wesley and Tracey – equal global learning enthusiasts! - were soon underway.

"Westlake were fortunate enough to have some really good IT resources,” says Brendan. “Which opened up the activities we could do together. A lot of our exchange was through photos and videos or social media, so it was great that we could use ICT as a vehicle to exchange those with one another, particularly as lockdown hit."

Global Learning Projects to break the ice!

Anna Grindle, one of the Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning advisors supported Millburn PS, guiding them through the variety of global learning projects they could consider to help kick-start their collective learning goals, exploring how and what each partner school would deliver. And when.

Using Padlet, What’s App, Zoom for video calls and social media, the schools began to exchange images and short video clips that shared information about one-another’s school, location and culture. This was an important starting block to build the relationship and mutual understanding between both staff and students at each of the schools.

“We wanted to do it properly and thoroughly,” commented Brendan. “Not as a single class either, but roll it out throughout our entire school. We also wanted everyone to be involved – both staff and pupils – so we also felt that staff training was essential to support knowledge and teaching. Up-skilling everyone in global learning across all key stages was always going to be critical to our success.”

As a result, three Global Learning Level 2 training sessions were delivered, with a course that aimed to provide content ideas through practical application and pupil-led activities. For teachers who were unable to make the online course run by the Centre for Global Education’s Schools Advisors – that prior to the pandemic would have been delivered face to face - Brendan and his colleagues relayed the key learnings back, to help keep everyone in the loop.

“I felt that the training was absolutely fundamental to where we wanted to go with the programme and to support our desired outcome. It slotted in perfectly to other topics we happened to be working on too, like Save our Planet and many of the UN’s Global Goals. On top of that, events like COP26 and the ongoing climate conversation were such hot topics that we wanted pupils to understand the key issues and concerns about the planet we all share. That’s why we needed everyone to be trained in how to deliver these vital global lessons."

Unfortunately, Covid-19 put a stop to some of the activities and planned events that each school had prepared. For example, when Northern Ireland was under lockdown and home-schooling, Westlake were in the classroom. When Westlake were then advised to stay at home, that just happened to coincide with Millburn’s return to school.

“At times it was all very tricky, but we got there in the end. Our collaborative work didn’t always suit what was going on with the pandemic, so we had to take an agile approach. It worked, though, and we’ve got some wonderful evidence and project output to corroborate that."

Working together on the Sustainable Development Goals

Both schools began by looking at the Global Goals and learning about things like climate change and poverty. They covered content that was related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

Goal 1 No Poverty
Goal 3 Good Health and Wellbeing
Goal 4 Quality Education
Goal 13 Climate Change

Millburn pupils debated the issues of zero hunger and the climate emergency and climate change, then uploaded these onto SeeSaw. Westlake PS did the same on the topic of Plastic in the Ocean, with each pupil arguing points for and against their chosen topic, so they could address their chosen subject through a critical lens. Watch the video below to see this in action.

With the ongoing concern and impact of Covid-19, Anna and Rosie (our Global Learning Schools Advisors) suggested that the schools place a focus on pupil wellbeing, edging away from environmental issues and the Global Goals to support pupils' mental health during the pandemic. This was a crucial step in ensuring pupil wellbeing and encouraged both schools to share their lockdown experiences, understanding the impact that the virus had, locally and globally. Brendan maintained ongoing engagement with his pupils right throughout lockdown, using Zoom and other ICT platforms.

“We played little games and watched lots of global learning videos, which were a brilliant way to keep that sense of togetherness. The kids would then go off and learn about their chosen goal and we’d all meet back up again online to explore and chat about it. That’s how we kept global learning alive during lockdown.”

As part of their project work, and when restrictions eased, Millburn created some Nature Mandalas (see images) as pupils had access to the beach and coast, with Coleraine being situated on the north coast of Northern Ireland. This project task allowed the children to go outdoors and enjoy nature and the world around them, supporting their mental health and general wellbeing. It also allowed them to handpick the pebbles and rocks they would later go on to paint and embellish with positive affirmations and such.

Milburn pupils also created a Nature Frame as part of their project work (see image below) that identified the aspects of the environment they felt were particularly beautiful and eye-catching, with each pupil capturing what they thought was meaningful or moving to them. In fact, Millburn pupils love the environment so much that they went as far as putting ‘Stop Littering’ posters around their local area in a bid to encourage everyone to look after the planet.

Westlake's Project work and Paintings

“Millburn kids have a lot to say,” Brendan told us. “But what’s so lovely is that their views aren't tainted by anything. They see the good in everything, but equally they see an injustice in things that really are unjust. So the idea of the poster was to put a focus on bringing global and environmental learning alive and creating purpose. I guess it was a form of practical action that relates to climate change and protecting the planet from things like plastic in the ocean and unnecessary pollution.”

As Millburn exchanged their project ideas with Westlake, they were delighted to similarly receive project work back, including a video on ‘Plastic in the Ocean’ from Revicka, a dedicated pupil from Westlake Primary School. As a result of the topic being raise by Westlake, Brendan then asked his pupils to bring in as much plastic as they could, so they could create a piece of junk art from it, using recycling to develop art and creativity.

Naturally, both schools wanted to know about their partner school and community, so birds-eye images of both the school and the local area were exchanged.

“That's where a lot of the learning came in,” says Brendan. “We learned about our partner school, then explored areas around it like Table Mountain and what else was in Cape Town, as well as what it was famous for.” Millburn pupils then reported back to Westlake reciprocating what was on offer in Northern Ireland.”

When it came to evaluating the partnership and pupil wellbeing in particular, we asked about Millburn’s whole-school approach and what it was they felt they had learned.

“We carry out regular evaluations to gauge pupil’s enjoyment in this type of learning and all evidence suggests just how much they loved the outdoor lessons that also happened to support their mental health. They thoroughly enjoyed working with their peers in another country and learning about them, as well as sharing local knowledge back."

The creative work was cathartic and a lot of fun, too, but knowing that other schools and pupils around the world were going through the same as they were was also an incredible help at a very difficult time. That’s why global learning is so important. It opens up the mind of pupils, broadening horizons and showing them what’s on offer in a world that is waiting to be explored.”

We asked Westlake about their experience in working on the International Partnership programme where Tracey Petersen, Westlake’s current Principle, was only too happy to respond.

“From the onset, we loved this partnership. Anna gave us great support and I always loved our interactions. The global conversation on climate change and poverty brought an awareness to our students about their social responsibility in the world.” She went on to add, “What I wish, though, is that we could have done it a little differently: have more time together, more engagement, and far less interruption, with schools closing because of the pandemic."

However, throughout it all we wanted to continue with our partnership and do all we could to achieve our goals and illustrate all our shared responsibility in society.”

On behalf of the team working on the CCGL programme, the Centre for Global Education and the British Council and FCDO, we would like to thank Millburn and Westlake Primary Schools for their efforts, achievements and incredible pupil output as we wrap this three-year-long programme.

We have no doubt that this is only the beginning of a long-term partnership and that both schools’ global learning journey really has only just begun.

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