An extract from a video showing at Christmas tree and Santa Claus and naming the students who created it
Students in Upper Wharefdale school and College Albert Camus compared Christmas in England and France

This is the story of two schools, one in the Yorkshire Dales in England and one in the north of France, who came together to start an international schools partnership, as part of the British Council LEEDS 2023 School Partnerships project with Lille during LEEDS 2023 year of culture. 

We spoke to Anita Bell, head of languages, and Vicky Cooke, French teacher, at Upper Wharfedale school in Threshfield, Yorkshire and Estelle Sanchez, English teacher at collège Albert Camus in Outreau, northern France. They told us about their schools partnership and the projects that their students have worked on together. 

Vicky Cooke: I sometimes feel that teaching a language can be a bit like being a swimming teacher but you never get in the pool. An international partnership is like jumping in the water with your students and splashing around.  

Having real life contact with French children was a big motivation for us. They've been matched up with pen pals and we're hoping that we'll build into something bigger so that people know, when you go to Upper Wharfedale school, you meet French children, you get a pen friend, you get to visit, they come and visit here and that's what we do. 

We're taking a group to France in June. We're going an hour south of Outreau where Estelle is and one of our days is to visit the school. 

It becomes concrete. So, even if students don't choose GCSE French, their attitude is “Yeah, of course I know some French people, French is great.” 

Motivations. And being curious! 

Examples of traditional Christmas images - a Christmas tree, turkey, a gingerbreadhouse and funny socks
Students posted pictures of Christmas on the shared digi wall

Anita Bell: We’re a small rural school, our students are 11 to 16, 70 children per year group, so the whole school is about 350 children. Our numbers for choosing French have been fairly low and we've been tasked with how we can increase them.  

Estelle Sanchez: I think we have some similarities. We are in the rural area although we are close to the sea. We can see the white cliffs of Dover when the weather is clear. That's a way to motivate the students, you know, to say you can see England just over there. See, it's really close.  

We wanted to give the chance to pupils to interact with English pupils. We are really close to England, but they don't speak much English apart from within my classroom.  

I think it's motivating. It helps students discover a new culture. I mean, we’ve done projects where we compare Christmas traditions and compare the regions so they discover that, yes, England is a foreign country, but there are similarities too. It triggers questions. It makes them curious, and so that's great to discover that there are similarities and differences. 

Teachers are motivated too!

Working through a partnership is also a new way to teach. You have to be creative, you have to change your teaching habits and it's really motivating for teachers as well. You have to use new tools, IT tools, the pupils discover IT tools too. I think it's rewarding both for students and teachers. 

Vicky Cooke: This year, we've got a higher uptake at GCSE than we've had in the last 10 years. We've got 27, which is a lot considering we went down to a group at one point of 10. That's been a massive increase for us. 

Anita Bell: There are other things we have done as well, of course. We've put things like film projects into our curriculum. We've tried all sorts of things to motivate students. We've got student leaders involved and we now have language ambassadors in school as well as a senior leadership also promoting languages and saying how important communication skills are for careers.  

But the partnership has definitely helped. We've got an end point for students to actually use their language, for our students who live in rural Yorkshire, who perhaps don't go on holidays to France with their parents, and certainly during the COVID years have not been able to travel at all.  

Estelle Sanchez: English is compulsory for all students in our school, so we can't compare the number of students involved in the English lessons. But I know that they are really motivated. 

They can get two extra hours of English when they enter year nine. I've already come across students in year 8 and they told me that they are interested in taking these two extra hours because they know that there is this partnership. They want to go to England, they want to meet their pen friends. 

I notice that my year nine and year 10 are really willing to speak English. They want to know more things about culture. So, it has opened their minds. 

I would say it also helps with self-confidence. For example, when we decided to shoot a video, they said, “No, I'm not going to speak English”. And in the end, they all did and they were really proud of themselves. I think it helps them gain self-confidence regarding languages and oral communications.  


You can read more about the partnership and how they made it successful in our blog Leeds – Lille international school partnership: chapter 2: ideas for successful projects