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Call to revive school exchanges

For many children, going to stay with foreign pen-pals on a school exchange used to be a rite of passage, but a new survey suggests that, now, the trip is often only for those who are privately educated.

Overall, less than two fifths (39%) of headteachers say that pupils at their school are able to take part in international exchanges which include staying with a host family, according to a poll by the British Council.

The Council said it was launching a campaign to bring back overseas exchange trips to encourage youngsters to study languages and help tackle a "national language crisis".

The findings reveal stark differences between fee-paying, selective, academies and local-council run schools.

Just three in 10 heads at local authority schools (30%) said that their youngsters could take part in foreign exchanges with a home stay, along with 39% of academy principals.

In comparison, 77% of private school leaders questioned said that their pupils can go on this type of exchange, as did 82% of grammar school headteachers.

Headteachers were asked why their school stopped taking part in international exchanges with a home stay, and among those that replied, the most popular response was parents' safety concerns (chosen by 37%) followed by taking students out of school during term time (36%).

The survey also found that overall, just over one in four (27%) of all headteachers questioned said that their school takes part in overseas exchanges that do not include staying with a family, while just 16% said that their school takes part in virtual exchanges - such as video-conferences - with schools overseas.

Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, said: "For many of us, that first school exchange trip was a real 'light bulb moment' that got us excited about learning a language and understanding another culture. It's a shame that these exchanges have fallen victim to things like safety concerns - which can actually be easily remedied with the right steps.

"As we seek to tackle a national language crisis and a lack of international skills among young people entering the world of work, reviving school exchanges is vital - and we'll do everything we can to help schools make this possible."

The survey findings come just days after a leading headmistress called for teachers to challenge British insularity and reluctance to learn languages and teach pupils to speak more than just "functional" phrasebook expressions.

Good language lessons can help children to gain an "outward-looking perspective" on the world and an understanding of different cultures, Bernice McCabe, co-director of the Prince's Teaching Institute (PTI) and headmistress of North London Collegiate School, suggested.

She also said that if possible, young people should be encouraged to travel abroad, requiring them to speak in another language, as a way to "bring the study of languages to life".

:: The British Council poll questioned 450 school leaders in Britain last month.


From Belfast Telegraph