They add value
Schools get the most benefit when they build a partnership based upon ethos rather than business, where it is part of their identity more than it is an income generator — even when that income might support bursaries.
Just as with all best and sustainable partnerships, formal international partnerships can bring incremental but increasingly significant worthwhile benefits to the UK school beyond any simple financial transaction.
Attitude and ethos
Ethos eats strategy for breakfast. Many day schools aspire to an ever more diverse and inclusive community. That is easier when we have genuine cultural reference points in our school family, our international partnerships. It gives greater authenticity to, for example, Lunar New Year or Vietnamese National Day, particularly if we have teachers on secondment to the UK who are nationals of our overseas schools’ home countries.
“Schools get the most benefit when they build a partnership based upon ethos rather than business.”
I have noticed that having international partners has created a different way of thinking when looking at curriculum review and learning activities. In terms of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion agenda, it can be motivating and secure action to have real world experience and examples of rich alternative heritage and cultures, of different societal norms of genuine diversity.
A culture of innovation and improvement
Our schools are at their best when open to innovation and evolution. International awareness, challenging our assumptions, learning from other contexts can help us embrace the huge possibilities of global opportunity and can make small procedural changes less controversial.
Be the change you want to see in the world
Demonstrating our commitment to doing good goes beyond Fundamental British Values or charity and is more about the moral purpose our students increasingly demand of our schools. Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Well, if we think what we are doing in our schools is valuable and helps to form good people, then we can be pleased to share and develop that value, collaboratively, with partners in our global community.
“Effectively promoting our values can create benefits for independent schools and the UK.”
If we can affect positive change in the world, then we should. This can be seen in all aspects of our educational offer but also in the sharing of fundamental British values. Effectively promoting our values can create benefits for UK independent schools and the UK generally lasting for generations.
Teaching, learning and CPD
There is great expertise in other countries, amongst local and international teachers, in teaching and learning, meta cognition, risk management, procurement, safeguarding and so much more. There are great teachers and there are important differences in societal attitudes towards education. We have so much to learn both from visits, correspondence, shared documents and through video conferencing. We could share guest speakers for staff, students and parents, we could create international cluster groups for subject leaders or even scholars and older students to share their successes and share challenges they face.
Having an international partner means that it is easier to set up a virtual sports event with pupils in China, to invite a delegation from Vietnam to participate in a school MUN event or to generate case studies that come alive based on current, up to date and local input with live camera streams. Immersive video technology can help teachers run a chess club with a north African partner school from the UK, so that our students can benefit in extra-curricular areas of school life, with input from students and teachers overseas.
“An overseas partner school could offer a familiar setting for a volunteer or gap year placement.”
On inspection recently, I observed a Covid positive, asymptomatic and otherwise well Sixth Form boy running a lunchtime club in coding techniques for younger students via Teams from home. He could have been anywhere in the world.
School trips and travel
It could be a wonderful opportunity to have a home community overseas that could offer a base for sports, cultural or academic visits. There are so many existing opportunities for overseas visits but perhaps they offer the best experience to our pupils when we go as friends and partners rather than just customers and tourists. An overseas partner school, especially if it has UK staff on secondment, could offer a familiar setting for a volunteer or gap year placement for current students.
As well as for traditional trips, it could be easier or better to support the growing interest in VR or virtual field trips if a school has an international partner.
Staff recruitment and retention
A school can never be better than the quality of its staff and few schools are always overwhelmed with too many outstanding applicants. It may be increasingly attractive to be able to offer colleagues the chance to enjoy a secondment in a partner school overseas. At certain times in a teacher’s life that opportunity could be a distinct reason to take up a new or stay in a current post, just as the chance to live and study for a year abroad can be seen as attractive in some university degrees.
“It can be difficult to appoint international teachers looking to return to the UK.”
Equally, many teachers in international schools aspire to return to the UK at some point, often led by family circumstances. It can be difficult to appoint international teachers looking to return to the UK, even with the help of new technologies. Having a base in an overseas territory could give a helpful head start in recruitment of new staff looking to return from overseas. It could give an invaluable understanding of their own returning teachers but also help shortlist applicants from other international schools.
11+ Recruitment for day and boarding into the UK school
Many prospective parents are keen that their children grow up as global citizens and love the concrete reality of a formal international partnership for a UK school. The benefits outlined in this document catch prospective parents’ imagination: they can see the opportunities for the impact on learning, ethos, trips and opportunities beyond school years
When it comes to boarding, there are obvious benefits to have a home team in a different country to help promote the UK school’s reputation and to offer boarding places to students from your international school pupil body for A-level study, for example.
Alumni groups, the school’s network and fundraising
The pandemic reminded us how valuable connected communities are alongside the interdependence of our global community. How wonderful it would be to have a significant network in major cities of the world. Many schools have this as part of an alumni network, perhaps especially boarding schools with more overseas families. A network will not guarantee anyone a job but it could be so helpful to get an introduction, to be invited to a social event, to be able to receive some advice.
A partner school with clear affiliation to the UK school significantly embedded in a city overseas can be so helpful to other members of your alumni or wider school family. In terms of alumni fundraising, I have experienced and also heard a number of reports that overseas communities of our schools can be more generous when responding with donations to bursary or facilities fundraising requests for donations.
This article first appeared in A Culture of Innovation: British Schools Overseas, the latest report from executive search consultants Wild Search. It is edited by Wild Search’s head of education and former Wetherby senior school head, Seth Bolderow.