Blog post written by: Pauline Stirling, retired Primary and Secondary School Teacher; a British Council Schools, eTwinning and a Teach SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) Ambassador; and Duke of Edinburgh Award Expedition Assessor.
I organised my first international residential trip in 1987 during my first year of teaching. I was teaching French and German then and I took thirty 14 year olds to Paris for a long weekend. My Mum, also a teacher, warned me that it was a risky business taking young people out on school trips. This didn’t put me off and all went well.
Since then, I continued to plan, run and participate in trips, exchanges and residentials in the UK and abroad, including camping expeditions. Despite having four children of my own (and I guess a long-suffering husband who has always been prepared to do all the parenting whilst I am away), I have managed at least one trip a year for the past 32 years.
Perhaps some of the best of my school trips have been the exchanges. I have run exchanges to Norway, France and Germany. Students and staff who have participated in these visits, will never forget them. In fact, it was the French exchange with a school in Redon, France, in 1976 that made me want to continue with French beyond school and then eventually to teach it.
So what are the obstacles in planning and running an exchange?
There must be some or else every school would run one! It’s not the cost as exchanges are the cheapest way to run an overseas trip. Students stay with host families so there are no accommodation costs.
Safeguarding does present an issue. Some Local Authorities now require every UK host family to have a DBS check on everyone in the household over the age of 18. This is a huge task to organise and, to make it worse, the partner schools in other countries don’t need to do it.
Some families worry about their child staying with ‘strangers’ but I always reassure them, explaining that the host family have a child of the same age in the same situation!
Any trip abroad comes with a mound of paperwork but exchanges possibly more so. Perhaps then, the main obstacles are the amount of paperwork and encouraging families to get involved. The second of these does tend to resolve itself over time.
With perseverance, once one exchange has been run successfully, it is easier to recruit participants the following year. The paperwork? That won’t go away!
The benefits are so clear.
If the exchange is with a school in a country that speaks the language learnt in school, the language acquired through immersion is far greater than any language learnt in the classroom.
Then there is the greater acceptance and understanding of different cultures, which tends to then stay with the student forever leaving them more open-minded.
There is an enhanced interest in global and community issues following living as part of a family, in a community, in another country.
On a personal level, the increase in self-confidence and self-esteem is always evident in a group of students after an exchange. Being out of one’s comfort zone encourages resilience, enabling greater problems to be dealt with later on in life. The integration into another family, as well as the development of life-long friendships, fosters an appreciation of home and family.
Yes, planning and running an exchange might create additional workload (of which teachers already have plenty!) and could be a bit risky, even despite careful planning, as there are so many factors to consider, but they are always well worth the effort.
My 10 top tips for planning and running a successful exchange:
1. Where an exchange is being arranged for the first time, a preliminary visit must be carried out.
2. Regular communication with your partner organisation from launch of the exchange until travel is vital.
3. Placing students with host families raises safeguarding risks. Key to managing that risk is good preparation with the partner schools, as well as preparation of your own students to educate them how to manage situations as they arise.
4. Before launching the exchange, consider how you would manage the travel, accommodation and safety of any students with additional needs (mobility, learning, behavioural, medical, dietary).
5. Get all the paperwork in from parents in plenty of time so that you can solve any issues before they arise: students with additional needs (mobility, learning, behavioural, medical, dietary); students with non-EU passports; getting DBS checks carried out on host families.
6. Have a parent information evening and insist they all attend; ensure parents are aware that they need to contact the leader only if there is an emergency at home.
7. Ensure students are aware of any cultural differences and how they must respect these.
8. Ensure students know how to contact members of staff when away and are aware of the issues that might arise if they contact home too much!
9. Have some good ice-breaking activities eg a game of handball, rounders, football or board games ready for the first day.
10. Have contingency arrangements if you need to remove a child from a host family.
Knowing that you are well-prepared for any eventuality, go with an open mind and enjoy!
About the Author
Pauline Stirling has recently retired after 32 years teaching in Primary and Secondary schools, both state and independent. For most of this time, she taught French and German, but also taught Mathematics, Citizenship and PSHE.
Pauline is also a British Council Schools, eTwinning and a Teach SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) Ambassador as well as being a Duke of Edinburgh Award Expedition Assessor. She have extensive experience of running trips, at home and abroad, and exchanges.