An inclusive exchange

Keeping calm when things go array and introducing new elements to the partnership each year have been crucial to the success of the link between Mounts Bay Academy in Cornwall and the Wiesenschule Förderschule in Rietberg. Jennifer Hick from Mounts Bay Academy tells us their story.

How did your link with Germany start out?

Our link originally started as we were working with the Wiesenschule on a Comenius school improvement project. When we heard about UK-German Connection we thought we might be able to develop another project. The German head teacher was not sure any of his parents would be happy to let their children travel so while we were at the Wiesenschule, we laid on a parents’ evening where our students presented Cornwall and the school in German and cooked Cornish specialities for the parents and students. Pasty power prevailed and we suddenly had a group of parents who wanted their child to come to us. As the school had never run a residential course, let alone travelled abroad, we were very pleased with the result and now run the parents’ evening each time we visit.

How have you developed your activities over the years?

Our first project was a straightforward exchange between the two schools concentrating on language skills and the GCSE students being placed in the classes as teaching assistants. The second project idea came from the Mounts Bay pupils who wanted to gain experience as teaching assistants to their peers from our local SEN school and our German partner school. We took students from our local SEN school with us and the pupils produced a film about the two regions. This year we have also involved a local primary school and held a festival week and a final ‘Life Celebration’ concert with students from all four schools.

What obstacles did you encounter and how did you overcome them?

As mentioned above, the first time, the German school was not sure parents, students and even staff would be prepared to be involved. Not surprisingly, we also had to convince our local SEN school that the exchange was feasible for the second project. Our parents’ evening was also cancelled this year as northern Germany bore the brunt of a catastrophic storm. We compensated for this by presenting the planned work at a whole school assembly the next day then incorporating it into the summer show in Cornwall.

What have been the benefits to the young people involved?

The MBA students have grown in confidence both in their language skills and in their leadership experience. All groups have developed their life skills as they have been forced to adapt to their new surroundings and the needs of a travel in a foreign country. The GCSE students have shown real motivation in their studies since returning and the communication skills of pupils in all four schools have expanded greatly given the difficulties of language and the nature of the difficulties some of the SEN students have.

The UK-German projects have been the most life-changing for our students amongst the extensive offer of international visits we provide. (UK teacher)

How has the partnership made a difference to your school or youth group as a whole?

Our parents are hugely supportive of this exchange and have been since the first year. It is seen as a very different educational visit, which has changed the life choices of many of those involved. Some of the past students are now planning to move on to language degrees in order to train to teach and others are looking at going into careers working with students with special needs. Our partner schools in Penzance are asking to be more involved with the Academy and we are planning creative arts lessons for them here. Through the German lessons delivered in the primary schools, we are expecting a greater uptake in German in Year 7 when students are offered a language choice. Meanwhile, as a ‘Teaching School’, we are offering training positions to TAs from the German school.

By leading the visit for the German pupils, the Mounts Bay students gained valuable experience for future careers as well as an insight into how to support young people with special needs.
(UK teacher)

What are your plans for the future of the partnership?

Aside from the developments as a ‘Teaching School’, we are also hoping to take primary students abroad with us, as well as linking up and exchanging with Wiesenschule students who are now in the 6th form at the local ‘FiLB’ (Förderzentrum zur individuellen Lebensgestaltung und Berufsbildung).

Do you have any top tips for other teachers?

  • Make sure you have a member of the senior leadership team involved.
  • Allow your students to be part of the planning from the outset so they feel responsible for the success of the project.
  • Don’t panic when things go array. Stay calm and the students will follow your lead.
  • Be prepared to be flexible if you are working with SEN students. They will not always be able to follow the regimented programme you have established for them!
  • If you don’t already know the staff from your partner school, be sure you all agree expectations from the start: Who is paying for what? What are the expectations of participating staff and students?

Jennifer Hick, 2014

This article is part of the UK-German featured partnerships series.