International School Exchanges
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.
A DfE-funded and British Council-delivered programme to help 11-19 year-olds to go on an international exchange.
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.
Full project description
The Department for Education (DfE) allocated £2.5 million to an International School Exchanges programme (ISEP) that aimed to enable pupils aged 11 to 19, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to take part in an international school exchange between May 2019 and May 2020. Delivered by the British Council, the ISEP was open to state-funded secondary schools and colleges in England that could demonstrate that the exchange would benefit disadvantaged pupils, that had a partner school abroad confirmed to visit, and had the support of the school headteacher.
Eligible schools and colleges (‘schools’) could apply for grants of up to £15,000 to cover international travel to any country (within Europe or elsewhere) 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 given to applications that showed the school—or the group of pupils involved in the visit—included significant levels of disadvantage and flexibility was offered to schools to identify eligible pupils. Schools could design the exchange around a curriculum or soft skill focus area; a focus on language learning was not essential. All exchanges required significant interactions or ‘exchange’ with pupils in another country and the British Council ran overseas seminars to support schools without an international partner school to find one.