Head teacher Ian Kell tells us why he connects pupils in the north east of England with international opportunities.
Why do you look for international opportunities for your pupils?
International experience shouldn't just be an optional extra in education. It should be mandatory.
For many of the students at the school in Durham where I teach, opportunities to travel, beyond package holidays, are limited.
I want to encourage my students to gain experiences of new and different cultures and ways of living. While most of the children want to travel, there are opportunities available for kids who don't want to, like programmes that connect children across the world virtually.
Did you grow up in area where you teach?
I grew up north of the school, in the city of Newcastle.
My parents were outward looking and keen to explore the world. My father had the opportunity to travel when he was young, when he worked on the Empire Windrush, and also worked in Kazakhstan.
What effect does it have on young people when they recognise similarities in an international peer?
There are stereotypes that kids pick up inadvertently, which are challenged when they make contact with their peers from other parts of the world.
On a recent trip to Portugal, for example, we went to a local park. When we went to get some food, one of the Portuguese girls asked if the meat was pork. One of the English boys was surprised to learn that she was a Muslim, because he liked the girl and previously had a negative impression of Muslims.
How has an international opportunity changed things for someone at your school?
We took two pupils to Slovenia for the first time. Before that, neither of them had owned a passport.
Later, one went on to study at university and taught an English language course in Slovakia. Now, she lives in Austria. The other came back with new confidence to move to another part of England for university.
‘That was the best week of my life’ is a common reaction after a first international experience. The children are always positive about meeting other kids who share their interests.
How would you convince a sceptical parent that international opportunities are a good idea?
Many local employers in the north east of England are based in Germany, Japan, and all across Europe. Working with the rest of the world makes sense from a work perspective as well as a cultural one.
Research also shows that gaining experience beyond the local can help your child in the future.
Seeing more of the world shouldn't be limited to a lucky few.
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