School partnerships hold significant potential for supporting teachers and senior leaders to enhance pupil development and attainment through developing a broad and balanced curriculum and offering unique educational opportunities.
With this in mind, we spoke to Vicky Gough, Adviser for Schools – Education and Society at the British Council, to find out more about the benefits of international school partnerships across the UK school system and her top tips for setting up a partnership.
For teachers and senior leaderships teams considering entering into a partnership with an international school, Vicky highlighted the importance of forming worldwide connections to share ideas and practices. Vicky commented that,
“At a time when Britain is re-evaluating its position on the world stage, it has never been more important to help our pupils be open to the world and to broaden their horizons. As teachers, educational leaders and parents, it is vital that we allow the values of internationalism to inform our practice. We believe every young person should have intercultural and international experience. As the UK’s cultural relations organisation, the British Council creates opportunities for schools and teachers in the UK and worldwide to connect and work together to share ideas and practices.
As schools prepare pupils to engage with a global economy and live in a global society, educators and students need to be comfortable with other cultures. This means having knowledge of foreign languages, understanding the issues faced by people in other countries and understanding that we may find global solutions for issues faced in this country.”
The need for wider cultural awareness and understanding is also vital in preparing pupils to enter the workforce, and school partnerships can be an effective way to build these. As Vicky highlighted,
“International awareness and skills, such as the ability to connect with people globally, and many of the "soft skills" highly valued by employers can be developed through intercultural encounters and experiences gained through working with a partner school. These skills sit alongside and reinforce the development of core subject knowledge in topics such as geography, history, PSHE and modern languages.”
These partnerships can also facilitate confidence-building among pupils, as well as bring tangible benefits for teachers. As Vicky further explains,
“Working with a partner school can be very motivating for students, giving them a real audience for their work and enabling them to develop self-esteem and confidence through communicating with peers. International links can put lessons and world events into context. It can also be very beneficial for staff, allowing teachers to share experiences, learn new practices and also reflect on their own practice. By providing teachers, students and school leadership teams with the opportunity to collaborate at a national and international level, innovative responses to the changing demands placed on the modern school can be created.”
As Karen Carter, Headteacher of Lockerbie Primary School, recently told Tes,
“Ultimately, though, it’s opening pupils’ eyes to their own life chances that’s a privilege. Through work such as partnerships with Al Shurooq, I have seen them grow and develop in confidence and self-esteem and I am proud of their ability to be positive ambassadors for both the school and Lockerbie.”
For those teachers and senior leaders still concerned about the commitment of entering into such a partnership, Stewart Cook, SENDCo at Frances Olive Anderson Primary School, really encourages schools to think about how internationalisation can be embedded into the existing curriculum rather than be considered an extra task for already very busy staff. In a piece for Tes, Stewart commented that,
“Many schools worry about fitting the demands of an international partnership into an already overcrowded curriculum. However, at our school, we have used our international work to add depth and value to our curriculum by embedding it in what we do every day. For example, we have used the diverse mix of religions and ethnicities in our partner school to deepen our RE lessons by encouraging the children in both schools to question each other about their beliefs. Our most recent Ofsted report identifies our international work as a major strength of the school.”
When thinking about what a successful partnership looks like, Vicky laid out some helpful pointers.
“A great school partnership is one that is sustainable, not (entirely) funding led, well managed, motivates staff and pupils alike, is supported by senior management , involves the wider school community, is integrated in the curriculum, strategically planned, addresses global issues and contributes to key competence development of teachers and pupils.”
Vicky’s three top tips for setting up a partnership would be to:
- Have a clear understanding of the needs of your own school and your partner school and what you want from a partnership
- Having an agreed focus and purpose for partnership working
- Have a clear communication plan and an open relationship which ensures that you are able to overcome any intercultural misunderstandings that might occur