Education Endowment Foundation:International School Exchanges

International School Exchanges

Department for Education and British Council
Implementation cost 
Evidence strengthNot given for this trial
Impact (months)Not given for this trial
Project info

Independent Evaluator

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A DfE-funded and British Council-delivered programme to help 11 – 19 year-olds to go on an international exchange.
Pupils: 489 Schools: 38
Duration: 7 month(s) Type of Trial: Pilot Study
Completed May 2020

The Department for Education (DfE) allocated £2.5 million to the International School Exchanges Programme (ISEP), led by the British Council. The ISEP was open to state-funded schools and colleges and aimed to enable pupils aged 11 – 19, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to take part in an international experience. Schools could apply for grants of up to £10,000 for short-haul (EU and wider Europe) and £15,000 for long-haul (rest of the world) visits for a minimum of four nights for pupils and accompanying teachers, covering accommodation and subsistence, local transport and administration costs.

Applications were submitted to the British Council, which assessed the design of each exchange and awarded funding. Priority was offered to schools/​colleges and/​or participating groups with above average numbers of disadvantaged pupils. All trips required significant interactions or exchanges’ with schools or pupils in another country, and schools were asked to design their visits around a curriculum or soft-skill’ focus area, although a focus on language learning was not essential

There is limited high-quality evidence on the benefits of international school exchanges programmes. A school exchange programme may have a number of potential benefits, including expanding the intercultural awareness of pupils and supporting their engagement with the curriculum. The ISEP focuses on ensuring that disadvantaged young people do not miss out on the academic opportunities and life-changing experiences presented by overseas visits. This evaluation studied international exchanges that took place between July 2019 and May 2020. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic led to travel restrictions and school/​college closures which disrupted the delivery of the programme. The last international visit took place in March 2020. Overall, 42 out of 142 planned exchanges took place, and 38 schools participated in the pilot evaluation

Despite limitations, the ISEP allowed participating secondary schools and colleges to give pupils an international experience. DfE funding was crucial in allowing schools to include the most disadvantaged pupils, to whom the opportunity might not otherwise have been available. Teachers viewed exchanges as a valuable experience for their pupils and perceived the unique elements of ISEP – requiring exchanges to include a proportion of disadvantaged pupils, significant interaction with partner schools and a curriculum focus of choice – positively. Teachers and pupils reported an increase in pupils’ intercultural outlook, confidence with and tolerance of other cultures, and resilience. However, for high-quality causal evidence on pupils’ non-cognitive outcomes a randomised controlled trial would need to be conducted.

Barriers to applying for funding reported by teachers included a lack of clarity on how to apply to the new programme, a lack of confidence navigating the website and completing the application (mainly among schools and colleges with less experience of organising exchanges), and challenges with supporting pupils to complete the administrative activities required for international travel, such as applying for passports and insurance. Importantly, many of the qualitative interviews were conducted during the early stages of the new programme and there was an improvement in perceptions as programme delivery continued, with additional support offered to prospective applicants, including FAQs and model answers on the dedicated website.

For institutions, participating in ISEP was reported to have increased their capability to deliver international exchanges in the future (by establishing a relationship with a partner school) with the potential to increase appeal for prospective pupils. Teachers and pupils reported that they would be open to going on exchanges in the future. This was especially notable for teachers where additional work was involved in organising the exchange for pupils, and therefore suggests that the value of the exchange outweighs the difficulties in organisation and logistics for some.


Is there evidence of promise?


Teachers and pupils reported increased intercultural outlook, confidence with, and tolerance of, other cultures, and pupil resilience. However, for high-quality causal evidence on pupils’ non-cognitive outcomes a randomised controlled trial would need to be conducted.

Was the approach feasible?


The ISEP supported institutions to design and deliver an international experience through funding and support delivered by the British Council. There is evidence that the programme enabled institutions to give pupils, including the most disadvantaged, an international experience they may not have otherwise had. However, achieving anticipated numbers for the new programme was initially challenging and this was compounded by travel restrictions enforced by COVID-19.

Is the approach scalable?


There was demand for the programme to be repeated as many institutions felt they would be unable to offer the opportunity without the DfE grant, particularly to the most disadvantaged pupils. The programme could be trialled more widely when the impact of COVID-19 on travel reduces.

Specific improvements that could support a greater number of eligible institutions to take part include more targeted marketing of the unique qualities of the programme to schools with higher proportions of disadvantaged pupils, increased support for less experienced schools, and faster responses to applications.