United via Model United Nations

Two teachers from Dronfield Henry Fanshawe School first visited the Goldberg Gymnasium in 1997 and from there, a successful partnership and exchange programme has developed and flourished. Now including an annual Model United Nations, as well as the traditional exchange and even Christmas trips, Howard Horsfall from Dronfield shares how their partnership programme has developed over the years.

Who: Dronfield Henry Fanshawe School, Derbyshire & Goldberg Gymnasium, Sindelfingen

How did your link with Germany start out?

We received an invitation from the Goldberg Gymnasium to visit the school in December 1997. This visit was organised by the Head of English at Goldberg Gymnasium and supported by the mayor of Sindelfingen and the town twinning organisation. Following an initial visit by the headteacher and myself, we decided to organise our first exchange and the first group of students visited the Goldberg Gymnasium in March 1998. There were 33 students involved from DHFS in this first visit and we have had an annual exchange between the two schools every year since then (except in 2020 owing to the Covid 19 pandemic). Each year we have had groups of 35+ (our largest group was 61) involved in the exchange.

How have you developed your activities over the years?

In addition to the annual exchange we have been partners with the Goldberg Gymnasium in three Comenius and three Erasmus projects. The first of these projects started in 2005. There have been 14 other schools from 3 other countries involved in these projects but the Goldberg Gymnasium and DHFS are the only schools to have taken part in all of the projects.

Since 2008 we have taken part in the annual Model United Nations conference, organised and hosted by the Goldberg Gymnasium. The students take on the role of delegates in the full range of councils from the United Nations and debate issues of global significance during a five day conference. We have always taken the maximum permitted number of participants and have on occasions requested extra places owing to the enthusiasm of our students.

We have also hosted students from the Goldberg Gymnasium as students at DHFS. These placements have sometimes been for a few weeks and one student spent a full academic year at DHFS.

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

Very few. Having close personal links and friendships, and agreeing on the ground rules on communication early on has helped us to avoid obstacles. Flexibility has been the key to all our activities.

What have been the benefits to your pupils and school community?

The main benefits have been unquantifiable. The students’ confidence has increased, along with their communication and social skills. They have improved levels of openness and willingness to meet students from other nations. The partnership has been well received by the community as a whole and we have been supported also by the Dronfield town twinning association.

The links and visits have become rites of passage for students in the school and we have families where every child has been involved in at least one of our visits and the younger children have waited with anticipation for their chance to have the same experiences as their older siblings.

Parents have approached the school independently to enquire if opportunities that have been made available to older students will be available for their younger siblings ‘when their time comes around’.

How have you kept your partnership alive while visits have not been possible?

The exchange planned for March 2020 did not take place but all the pairings with host families had already been organised and the information distributed. Thus the participants were able to start communicating even though a face-to-face visit was not possible. This has been successful, with 26 of the 29 eligible students from the 2020 cohort already signing up to take part in a possible 2021 exchange.

The planned Model United Nations visit in October 2020 was revised to be an online event and our students submitted home-made videos telling the story of their response to the pandemic. These films were then shown at the online event.

What are your plans for the future of the partnership?

More exchanges, more Model United Nations conferences, more joint projects, more hosting. We also plan to take a group of pupil premium students on a visit to the Christmas markets in Stuttgart in December 2021 (postponed from December 2020). These students will be hosted by volunteers from the Goldberg Gymnasium and will be students who would not normally have the chance to take part in an exchange.

Do you have any top tips for other teachers?

Be flexible in your activities. Don’t start with a fixed agenda of what you want, just open the channels of communication and see what develops.  Get your school leadership team involved. Arrange for your headteacher to visit your partner school (and vice versa). Be friends with the teachers in your partner school. It’s easier to organise events when you’re doing them with friends.

Howard Horsfall, teacher at Dronfield Henry Fanshawe School.

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