Overseas exchange programme extended to upper KS2 pupils

A school exchange programme funded by the government is to be expanded to include some primary pupils for the first time. The international schools exchange programme, which is principally focused on supporting children from disadvantaged backgrounds, was launched a year ago by then education secretary Damian Hinds. Run in conjunction with the British Council, it was initially only for secondary school pupils. At the time of launch British Council research found that only 39 per cent of state secondary schools ran international exchanges, compared to figure for independent schools of 77 per cent. The programme has now been extended to Year 5 and 6 pupils, who will be able to take advantage of grants for travel to visit a partner school. The visit can be used to enhance any curriculum subject teaching - it does not have to be a language exchange, although the British Council say that these are welcomed.

Current education secretary Gavin Williamson announced the expansion of the programme in a speech at the Education World Forum in London, with education ministers from over 100 countries in the audience. ‘For decades now, children across the world have been making overseas trips to meet their fellow pupils, making lifelong friendships along the way and having a much deeper understanding of what that country is about than anything they could ever learn in a textbook’ he said.

Mr Williamson also used the speech to defend the education reforms which the government has made since 2010, claiming that they are ‘already bearing fruit’. He also emphasised that further reforms lie ahead, saying that the government would ‘push on with our reforms for as long as it takes so that we drive up standards in every single one of our schools and for all children and young people wherever they live.’ The education secretary suggested international collaboration was an important element of achieving improvements. ‘This government’s own reform agenda involved a lot of what some would call stealing—but what I prefer to call borrowing—some of the best ideas from around the world’, he said, adding ‘The UK has always been an outward-looking and global nation, with a proud history and record when it comes to education and innovation.’

On global cooperation, the government has come under fire from some critics recently after MPs voted against a motion which would have required ministers to attempt to negotiate continued full membership of Erasmus+, an international study programme for university students, after Brexit. In response to Williamson’s announcement on school exchanges, Erica Ramos, a vice president of the National Union of Students said ‘It makes no sense for the government to extend funding for exchange programs for school children while removing opportunities for them later in life by not committing to the continuation of Erasmus+ after we leave the European Union. All students should have access to programs that allow them to expand their cultural knowledge, exchange cultures and experience the world regardless of age.’

Full details of the international schools exchange programme: https://www.britishcouncil.org/school-resources/exchanges

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