From Kabul to Quebec - 08 Mar 2012
Thursday, 03.08.2012, 07:37am (GMT)
International projects and links are at the heart of life at Wootton Bassett School. Jackie Cosh talks to assistant head Rob Ford who describes the impact their work has and offers his advice to other schools
As part of their A Level in history and International Baccalaureate and A level in politics, students at Wootton Bassett School in Wiltshire study the American War of Independence and the revolutionary wars.
Recently, a group of these students visited the USA where they stood on the Rocky Steps, visited the site where the constitution was put up, experienced modern America with the Italian, Asian and Latin American immigration, and walked around areas where Spanish, not English was spoken. The contrast was not lost on them.
Trips such as this are where Rob Ford, assistant headteacher at Wootton Bassett, sees international learning. He told SecEd: “I think that’s when you take international learning onto a whole new dimension which goes beyond the flags, the food, and the songs. This is all great stuff to do to get kids involved but a trip such as this is where you do start to get students who are globally minded at the highest level.”
On top of his role as assistant headteacher for post-16, Mr Ford is director of international learning and holds responsibility for the International Baccalaureate. Following the American trip he received positive feedback about the impact it had on one student.
He explained: “I had a teacher say to me this morning that a certain student has come back positive. He wasn’t too happy with 6th form before but really enjoyed the visit and is now seeing his education in a different context. At the school we went to they start at 7am and have two-hour lessons in a diverse high school of 2,500 kids. It’s much more than just an exchange trip in terms of how it gets into the curriculum and how it becomes meaningful.”
Mr Ford arrived at Wootton Bassett three years ago having played a central role in international education in his previous school. Wootton Bassett had already obtained full International School Award accreditation from the British Council and in 2011 it was re-accredited, this time with an outstanding commendation. It was also accredited with a special commendation for outstanding commitment to the development of international learning and is now an ambassador school for the British Council.
Initially, Mr Ford conducted an audit of the international work being done and got to know the school in the context of the local area.
He continued: “It’s a very community-based area where fallen soldiers were being brought back on a weekly basis. Unfortunately there were kids from this school whose parents were out in Afghanistan and Iraq so then you had a world conflict on your doorstep. It was not remote or abstract.
“We had the BNP wanting to come down here and picket and hand-out leaflets. We had an extreme Islamic group wanting to march through the town. My 6th form wanted to talk about these issues and talk about the idea of soldiers dying for human rights, democracy and freedom there.”
Various methods have been used to build up and sustain long-term relationships with schools across the globe. Technology such as video-conferencing has been indispensable.
Mr Ford added: “One of the most powerful video-conferences we have done was with school children in Kabul who were explaining how they walk 10 to 15 miles barefoot to get to their school, how their teacher is being threatened, or worse still examples of girls having their fingernails cut off because of nail varnish.
“That’s where the global learning should be at – in a secondary school especially. In a primary, that kind of thing isn’t perhaps easy material for younger kids to deal with but this does not mean we should shy away from all this. The Afghanistan and Russian kids I know in Siberia were very keen to show what they had. Their families were very strong, their values on education extremely strong, and that came as a big shock to some of our students.”
Elsewhere, Wootton Bassett hosts an international conference every summer for schools from all over the south west of England, and it also runs an annual university lecture series with universities in the USA for its 6th form. Its national Holocaust conference (which takes place in April) has now been recognised by the Holocaust Education Trust as an example of good practice.
Other recent links include with Canada. With help from British Council Schools Online, the school took French students to Quebec to learn French and have developed a highly successful partnership with schools there. They have also built up a link with the teacher training department in a Dutch university. Every week PGCE students from here and there have seminars about topical issues.
International work also forms part of the transition policy. Mr Ford said: “We have transition programmes which we use with our Singaporean partners when they come over three times a year and which involves the feeder primaries. Years 6 and 7 have done video-conferencing with them.
“Both groups work together for a week and with the help of student leadership from years 9 and 11 they plan a performance for the end of the week. That has helped the Singaporean students develop their drama and performing arts in which their curriculum is not really big on at the moment, although it’s getting bigger.”
Mr Ford also recalls a lesson where Swedish visitors were with the year 7s. Together they talked about the Vikings and when the bell went at the end of the lesson the pupils did not want to go.
Having taken two schools through the British Council’s ISA twice, Mr Ford is now one of its assessing panel judges and is well placed to advise and support other schools: “You need to do an audit and this is where the ISA comes into it. That audit is the first stepping stone where you look at what is going on. You often don’t know what your community can provide. In my last school I didn’t realise there was an Indonesian community in Bristol until I started working with the schools in Indonesia, and they provided invaluable help.
“I think you have to be open minded about it. You have to focus it on the curriculum, to make sure that you are not having the same stuff on a few trips. You need to be able to go to your heads of history and science and say ‘look if you work with this university or school I’ve got his money’, or ‘we have this project, I can make that year 11 class on a Wednesday afternoon transform and I’ll show you it and I’ll put the effort in.”
He also stresses the importance of cross-curricular linking: “You have to see global learning that’s joining up your curriculum and I don’t think there is anyone now that advocates subject disciplines being taught in a narrow isolated way.
“I think it helps if you identify, start small but prepare for it to go really big. The global dimension touches everything – student voice, student leadership, raising standards, joining up the curriculum, enabling leadership, making the school globally aware, and sustainability. It won’t succeed unless headteachers and the leadership team get their heads around it.”
• Jackie Cosh is a freelance education journalist