A display of info books made by students
English and French students exchange get to know each other ©

College Albert Camus

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. 

Estelle Sanchez: [We started our partnership with] our students introducing themselves. On the French side, my year 9s created books inspired by the Tom Gates novels, small books with different chapters, written in English. The first one was about introducing themselves, the second one was about school and the third one was about anecdotes.  

In exchange, the English students recorded their introductions so that the French students can hear a proper accent and have an audio version of their book. 

Christmas cards and Christmas traditions 

Examples of Christmas cards created by students at Wharfedale School
Pupils from Upper Wharfedale School sent Christmas cards to their French partners from collège Camus

Vicky Cooke: We then decided to exchange Christmas letters. Both on the French side and on the English side, all the pupils were involved so we had huge amounts of Christmas cards. These children wouldn't necessarily receive letters and cards, so there was a real excitement around, “there's a packet from France with the Christmas cards. What does it say?” and it's been very real.  

For the Christmas cards we said, “you know, it's up to you. You can buy a Christmas card. It could be one leftover from last year. You could make one.” There are really creative children who've made one and it's beautiful and there's a lot of pride in it. And then we have children who've literally just torn a page out of an exercise book. They've drawn a tree and said Merry Christmas. That is the nature of kids.  

And that, in itself, is an important learning experience. It’s about empathy, thinking “if I’m not going to put any effort in, how can I expect someone else to”. Thinking “when these parcels arrive, do you want the really rubbish one out of it, or do you want the really good one?” You need to think about what you're doing. 

Estelle Sanchez: We decided to compare Christmas traditions, so we created an online collaborative wall. The idea was for the students to upload photos about Christmas, regarding the meals, Christmas trees, different topics. We wanted an easy way for the students to start the project. We didn't want them to write too much but post photos like they use on Instagram so it was easy. 

It triggered questions from both sides so, on the French side, we decided to create a video comparing the English and the French traditions regarding Christmas. The students discovered that there were similarities and differences, of course. It was a great thing because it was a collaborative work both on the French side and on the English side. 

They were all involved, they all were interested in the project because they wanted to know more about their partners. They were curious. Shooting the video made them involved in the project. They took initiatives and said, “why don't we speak about that.” “I want to do this.” “Why don't we do that?” 

Anita Bell: To do the digital wall takes a bit of a leap of faith on our behalf as teachers, because we've got so much about trying to protect children and be careful about what you put online. But actually that is how the young people communicate with each other. So the digital online pictures and little short comments was really nice.  

Learning about the regions 

Estelle Sanchez: The next step we worked on was about comparing our regions using the same process where students uploaded photos. I took all the UK photos and I told my students: “today you are going to play detectives. You are going to investigate Yorkshire.” I wanted them to find information about the weather, the architecture, the landscape. They had to find one photo that would illustrate the topic and write paragraphs saying “I think that the weather in Yorkshire is this and that.”  

Vicky Cooke: We did a little project about the school with the year 7s. The students at Albert Camus school in France produced a fantastic video about their school with pictures, and each student had written a little section. And then we sent back a presentation about Upper Wharfedale. So they've seen around each other’s schools, a little bit about our teachers, what their school dinners look like. From that came questions.  

It was funny the questions they asked. My students made some little videos to reply to Estelle’s students’ questions, and then they asked some questions of their own. It wasn't a direct conversation, but they felt confident to record it rather than having to speak it live. And they loved seeing the videos, they love seeing the other students.  

The students here think that the French students speak English so much better. But actually, when the video comes through, it’s not perfect. And when they speak and it's imperfect, it’s really nice for our children to understand their English isn't perfect. Of course it isn't, they're 13! So they learn that we’re all just trying and learning to communicate. 

Advice for getting started 

Vicky Cooke: For the partnership to work, you need somebody who is going to say “what about this?” Not shying off or going, “I'll wait for them”. If you sit and wait, nothing is going to happen.   

Start with small projects that you can achieve and so the students can say, “look, we managed to do this”. It starts with simple Christmas cards. Everybody could get involved, even those students who felt they didn't have a lot of language at that stage, even the year sevens who had only just joined us at that point.  

Estelle Sanchez: Yes, be realistic, small projects that don't last too long. It doesn't have to be a year-long project. 

Anita Bell: Yes, it's been really good. What's nice is the variety of things we’ve done, the variety has been quite motivating. 


You can read more about the partnership and how they made it successful in our blog Leeds – Lille international school partnership: chapter 3: managing the partnership