A group of students from the South of France are due to spend a week staying with Derbyshire families after Shirebrook Academy revived the tradition of school exchange visits.
Ten 13 and 14-year-olds from a school in the Mediterranean port of Toulon are due to visit the town at the end of March, with 10 Shirebrook students then due to fly out to France in May.
Exchange visits used to be a common occurrence at UK schools but have fallen out of favour and now only 39% of British state schools organise them, according to figures from the British Council.
Nobody knows when Shirebrook students last took part in such a visit – or even if they ever have – but the Academy wants to revive them to support its modern languages curriculum as well as its broader co-curricular aims of widening horizons and giving students experiences that enrich their lives and prepare them for life after school.
At the same time, it has also revived the penpal tradition, with 10 Shirebrook students currently exchanging handwritten letters with students attending a school in Murcia in south-eastern Spain.
The exchange students, who attend the private Externat Bon Accueil school, will arrive in Shirebrook on March 26 and will spend their time between attending school in the morning and taking trips in the afternoon, with Go Ape! in Sherwood Forest, Chatsworth House and Alton Towers on the agenda.
On Friday March 29 – the day Britain is officially due to leave the European Union – the visitors will be visiting Sheffield, where they will be trampolining and going on a shopping trip to Meadowhall.
Otherwise, they will spend their time getting to know their British host families and joining in with their day-to-day lives.
The visit has been organised by James Edwards, head of modern foreign languages at the school, who said that the exchange had taken a significant amount of setting up, with teachers carrying out home visits and parents required to undergo DBS checks to satisfy safeguarding procedures.
However, he said that everyone involved, from the families to the students, were enthusiastic about the prospect of having a foreign teenager to stay and sampling life in the South of France themselves.
He said: “I’m thrilled that we are able to offer this trip. It is very unusual these days for a secondary school to offer an exchange trip and this will give our students the chance to learn far more about life in a foreign country than they would through an organised tour.
“I remember from trips I took as a teenager to Germany that feeling of being thrown in at the deep end and being forced to use your language skills. I learned an extraordinary amount about the way people live and their culture and it definitely inspired me to continue studying languages.
“In a time when our relationship with Europe is in the spotlight like never before, this is a wonderful chance for our students to widen their experience of the world and we’re very much looking forward to our French students’ arrival next month.”
Shirebrook Academy is based in Common Lane, Shirebrook. It has 840 students and was rated “outstanding” by Ofsted in 2013, with staff and pupils alike praised by inspectors, who also singled out the considerable care the school gives to individual students as one of the Academy’s particular strengths.
In May 2017 Shirebrook Academy joined Aston Community Education Trust (ACET), benefitting from the efficiencies to be gained from high quality centralised services and the challenge and support of ACET’s School Improvement Team.
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