An exchange growing in popularity!

The link between Forres Academy in Scotland and Vicco-von-Bülow-Oberschule in Niedersachsen began in 2016 and in a short time flourished into a successful exchange. Emma Harris, teacher at Forres Academy shares how their partnership has impacted school and community life.

Who: Forres Academy, Scotland & Vicco-von-Bülow-Oberschule, Niedersachsen

How did your link with Germany start out?

Forres town is twinned with Vienenburg and has been for 35 years. Sadly a previous well established school exchange had fizzled out many years ago – then a new school was built in Vienenburg and the Forres Twinning association helped us to re-establish a new link with the new Vicco-von-Bülow-Oberschule. One teacher and one student came to Forres in 2016 and we have not looked back! We have been building and establishing pupil email communication and building up the exchanges to include more pupils each year. We started small with 3 Scottish pupils visiting Vienenburg and each year the trip grows and grows. We use each other’s schools and towns when teaching about cultural differences and try to establish email links between pupils during the school year.

How have you developed your activities over the years?

Activities have included email correspondence between pupils in the schools, project work on topics such as ‘our school’ and ‘our town’ and exchange trips in which Forres pupils visit the school in Vienenburg and the Vienenburg pupils get the opportunity to come to Scotland.

Have you encountered any obstacles?

Cost of trips – especially given new legislation and restrictions as well as parental concern around staying with host families which has meant accommodation costs have to be included. Finding staff in both schools, who are keen and willing to build the partnership. Permission to do exchanges during school year to allow for pupils to attend partner schools. Pupil uptake for trips and events has also sometimes been an issue.

What have been the benefits to your pupils and how has the partnership made a difference to your school community as a whole?

There have been huge benefits for the pupils’ German speaking skills, as well as a big increase in their confidence. This then shows in increased attainment in exams – both amongst the German and Scottish pupils. There has also been a huge increase in motivation and interest in Germany and the German language. Pupils’ intercultural awareness has developed, alongside their independence and communication and enterprising skills. Events which took place during the exchanges, for example the ceilidh, brought pupils, families and exchange visitors together and helped us encourage our school community to demonstrate our values of respect and confidence.

The partnership has brought the town twinning and the school twinning to life again and made younger members of the community more aware and enthusiastic about links with other countries and people.

How have you kept your partnership alive (though virtual or digital activities) while visits have not been possible due to the Covid-19 situation?

We have remained in contact, although it has been difficult to keep the pupil partnership alive due to lockdown. Now we are back at school we are investigating ways to ensure our pupils can keep in touch despite the trips not going ahead.

What are your plans for the future of the partnership?

We hope to welcome Vienenburg pupils to Forres as soon as it is allowed and to organise a return visit to Vienenburg. We will continue to work on projects together with classes and are investigating working on a project to celebrate our 5th anniversary..

Do you have any top tips for other teachers?

It takes time, effort and perseverance and there can be some obstacles to establishing and maintaining a partnership but the benefits for all those involved hugely outweigh these. Language learning is about communication, tolerance and understanding which is what partnerships are best at developing. Ask colleagues who have been through the experience for help and make time to ensure the partnership is kept alive and brought to classes attention as much as possible.

 Emma Harris, teacher at Forres Academy

This article is part of the UK-German Connection Featured Partnerships series.