December 2012


  • New schools of thought
    They are a key plank of the government’s strategy to create a ‘self-improving system’, so 18 months from their launch, how are teaching schools shaping up? Nick Bannister reports. More
  • High Hopes
    A programme providing bespoke support for the most vulnerable pupils with special needs and their families has had remarkable results, including reducing the number of children designated SEN. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
  • Knock on effect
    Changes to government rules on how many students and of what calibre universities can recruit present a fresh challenge for school and college career departments, says Steve McArdle. More
  • Global Gains
    Working with a school overseas does more than help to create global citizens. Growing evidence shows that it can contribute to pupils’ academic motivation and attainment, say James Love and Claire Kennedy. More
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Working with a school overseas does more than help to create global citizens. Growing evidence shows that it can contribute to pupils’ academic motivation and attainment, say James Love and Claire Kennedy.

Partnerships with schools in the global south have grown hugely in the last few years with some 5,000 UK schools estimated to be participating. The quality of these links is increasing, too, thanks to support and training from a wide range of organisations plus new technology that is helping to bridge the communication gap. Gone are the days of school partnerships consisting only of a dusty noticeboard with a few photos and a fundraising event once a year. Now, the focus is on global learning through exciting shared curricular projects with students exchanging information and investigating common issues such as fair trade and climate change.

But, in this era of increased scrutiny and pressure on schools to raise performance, do such partnerships really have an impact? A growing body of research suggests that they can not only support global learning but increase pupil motivation and performance and support teachers’ professional development, too.

And the importance of equipping the next generation of school leavers with the global skills for a rapidly evolving economy is clear from employers. James Smith, previous chair of Royal Dutch Shell plc (2004-11), a major global employer, states unequivocally, “It is crucial for the future challenges we face, both as businesses and as a society, for young people’s education to equip them to think globally… We need employees who can interact with people from different cultures and can innovate to help us meet future challenges around, for example, environmental sustainability.”

Global learning

Research also increasingly shows that global learning through school partnerships has a knock-on effect on academic attainment. Studying a subject alongside their peers around the world and exploring real-life issues of social justice brings a new sense of importance to study and motivates students to take more care with their work. Ofsted’s 2009 report, Education for Sustainable Development: Improving schools – improving lives, found that learning about sustainability “captured the interest of children and young people because they could see its relevance to their own lives… In several instances, this led to more positive attitudes to learning in general, better behaviour and attendance, and to improved standards and achievement.”

It is not just students who gain from a partnership; teachers benefit, too. The chance to see teaching in very different circumstances can encourage new ideas and different approaches. Spending time immersed in a different culture helps to bring different perspectives into the classroom and not only for northern schools. Partnerships can support schools in the south to improve education in a far more sustainable way than fundraising. Surveys of teachers in the Partner Ghana schoollinking programme in 2012 found that teachers consistently rated the impact on their professional development as a key outcome of partnering.

Shared lessons

Kimbolton School, an independent school in Cambridgeshire, and Essaman United School, a secondary in Elmina, Ghana, have been working for more than a year with Partner Ghana to develop their partnership. Their focus is on projects around topics that already feature in both curricula, such as fair trade and rainforests, to give students a broad learning experience. Teachers have delivered lessons on topics including fair trade (geography and religious studies), slavery (history), and the intricacies of the popular Ghanaian game Oware (maths).

A Year 9 student trip to Essaman United, planned for Easter 2013, will develop the projects further. Pupils will take part in a field trip to a local cocoa farm to gather information first-hand about the process of growing cocoa, as well as investigating the lives and livelihoods of local workers. There will be shared lessons, where students will present information from their different contexts, and pupils will also visit nearby Elmina Castle, a former slave castle.

Claire Kennedy, a link teacher at Kimbolton, believes that the partnership has had a marked effect on her pupils’ understanding of distant places and peoples. “Few learning experiences can match the impact of direct interaction with those from another culture or the impact of visits to – and ongoing communication with – places previously seen only in geography textbooks or on news bulletins,” Claire says.

“Our partnership has generated openness to more critical ways of thinking, motivated pupils to gain a deeper understanding of diversity and developed their ability to communicate across cultural and geographical boundaries.”

Her own professional development has also been enhanced, she says. “In addition to extending my departmental curriculum and incorporating a range of new material, I have gained significant experience through the process of developing a partnership with a school in a different cultural context. I believe that school partnerships can make important contributions to the depth and breadth of teaching in a range of subjects.”

Reciprocal visits

Essaman teachers have benefited greatly, too. A recent visit to the UK enabled teachers Kwame Essuman and Jude Arthur to examine teaching in a different context. As a result, they are now working on implementing more pupil-centred methodologies and are exploring alternatives to corporal punishment in their own school.

The partnership is already having an impact on their students, too, says Jude. “Student attitudes towards learning have changed as a result of these projects. They are more concentrated on their English studies as they want to write perfect pen pal letters! Projects on shared cultural or environmental issues are creating more understanding about how we are globally interdependent. These exchanges enable students to research global issues and be an advocate for positive change.”

Kwame adds, “Through communication and mutually beneficial educational projects, we are creating an opportunity for teachers and students to explore and learn from each other. This will go a long way towards creating the understanding and mutual support needed in our global community.”

  • James Love is the UK Partner Ghana coordinator and has four years’ experience managing school linking programmes. 
  • Claire Kennedy is a geography teacher at Kimbolton School. She is currently responsible for co-ordinating Kimbolton’s involvement in its partnership with the Essaman United School

Tracing Cadbury's cocoa

Tracing Cadbury’s cocoa Partnerships with a school in a developing country can be an ideal way to embed global citizenship across the curriculum. Links with countries such as Ghana can provide a real-life context for pupils to learn about the realities of slavery and colonialism and explore contemporary issues. Tracing Cadbury’s cocoa back to its roots and investigating how fair the prices paid to farmers really are or exploring the effects of deforestation on Kakum rainforest can inspire pupils to think more critically about their world and embrace social justice.

 The evidence speaks for itself. A 2011 survey by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) of more than 8,000 UK pupils assessing the impact of global partnerships found that participation had a significant positive effect on the awareness, attitudes and responses of pupils to global issues. Crucially, the study also concluded that school educational partnerships are considered to be more effective global learning interventions than many other educational initiatives.

Find out more

Partner Ghana, run jointly with ASCL’s Educational Charity Trust, helps schools to establish educational links with a school in Ghana. It provides guidance, training, help with communication, and opportunities for teacher and pupil visits. For information, call 0203 239 9471 or email