The International School Award

Our school’s journey to gaining the Full Accreditation

The British Council’s International School Award recognises and celebrates schools that have shown a commitment to embedding international awareness and understanding within their curriculum offer. I first heard about the International School Award several years ago and applying for it had always been on my ‘to-do’ list but it wasn’t until 2019, following a fantastic e-Twinning conference in Bratislava, that I began to seriously plan and prepare the Action Plan that would be the first step in our school’s international journey. The International School Award has three levels: Foundation and Intermediate levels (for which you can submit an application at any time of the year) and Accreditation (which has specific deadlines). For schools who have already gained the Full Accreditation, which lasts for 3 years, there is also the Reaccreditation option.

When applying for the Foundation or Intermediate Levels, there is a simple application form to complete, detailing the international activities that your school has been involved in over the course of the previous 12 months. For Foundation Level, this just needs to be one activity with an international focus and may well be something that you are already doing as part of your curriculum (so no need to plan anything new or make more work for yourself). There is also no stipulated number of children who need to be involved, so working with a class or a single year-group is perfectly fine. It’s a great place to start if you’re just beginning to dip your toes into the pool of international work. At Intermediate Level, at least half of the school community needs to be involved in a total of three curriculum-based international activities, one of which must be in collaboration with an international partner or partners (more on how to find them later on).

The International School Award is a brilliant way to develop the global dimension of your school’s curriculum offer.

As a school community, we decided to go straight for the Full Accreditation, as we already had some international activities in place and had a clear plan for further development over the coming year. Accreditation Level involves submitting evidence of seven, curriculum-based activities over the course of a twelve-month period. Three of these activities must involve working with partner schools aboard, one of the activities must include a foreign language element and there should be evidence of elements of cultural exchange. The activities should be spread across the year and involve the majority of pupils in the school. To start with, this all sounded a bit daunting and I was worried that the activities that I had planned might not hit the criteria fully. However, the Full Accreditation involves submitting an Action Plan, which is evaluated by the British Council before you get started on the actual activities, so you can be sure that what you have planned is going to hit the mark. As part of the process, the team at the British Council give lots of feedback on your planned activities to make sure that they meet the necessary criteria and I found this really helpful as we embarked on the process. I must also add that the British Council are incredibly supportive and are just an email away if you have any questions as you begin your International School Award journey, and at any point throughout.

Of course, as a school, we had reckoned without the Covid 19 Pandemic and its associated lockdowns, which meant that lots of the activities that we had planned to undertake as a school didn’t end up happening during the academic year 2019-2020. This wasn’t a problem though and the British Council gave us the option of postponing the submission of our final Impact Evaluation for another year. The Impact Evaluation, which isn’t as scary as it sounds and is nowhere near as time-consuming as the initial Action Plan, is a chance to reflect on your school’s international journey, discuss any inevitable changes that you made to your plans and assess the impact of your work on both pupils and staff. Best-practice examples of all documentation required for any level of accreditation are all freely available on the International School Award area of the British Council’s website.

I’m pleased to report that, after the previously-mentioned twelve-month delay, we were finally awarded the British Council’s International School Award Full Accreditation and it was an absolute honour to collect the certificate and plaque on behalf of our school community at the award ceremony in November 2021.

It was an amazing opportunity to celebrate our success as a school community, as well as the hard work of schools from all around the country.

Below are some helpful tips for getting started on your International School Award journey. Believe me when I say that it is definitely worth the effort and, for us language teachers, it’s a fantastic way of bringing language-learning to life for the children that we teach.

Look at what you are already doing to meet the criteria for your level:

As teachers, we are always so busy and there is no point making more work for ourselves for the sake of it. No matter which level you want to start at, it’s important to look over the current curriculum offer for your school and look for places where you already have an international dimension. This might be a unit of work in another subject-area, such as geography, history or music, or a language-learning unit, like this one on life in Senegal, or this one celebrating the French tradition of le goûter. It’s much easier to build on what you already have, without re-inventing the wheel. Then, you can start looking for ways to expand the international dimension of the curriculum in order to meet all the criteria for your chosen level. Don’t forget that, whilst it is fine to use the odd ‘one-off’ activity as part of your evidence for international activities within your school setting, you shouldn’t rely on these too much. The aim is to really embed international understanding across the curriculum and, to do this, activities need to be a meaningful element of your school’s curriculum offer. I used ‘European Day of Languages’ and our school’s ‘Christmas Around the World Day’ as evidence in our final submission but all the other activities were delivered over time within a range of year groups across the school.

Find your International Partners:

One of the most challenging parts of the process of applying for any level above the Foundation Award can be developing links with partners overseas. Since Brexit, when teachers in the UK lost the right to access the fabulous e-Twinning platform, the process can seem even trickier (although if you have already used e-Twinning to make links with partners abroad there is, of course, no reason why those can’t continue and flourish). For anyone unsure of where to start in the process of connecting with schools in other parts of the world, there are alternatives to e-Twinning, which also work really well.

The British Council’s Connecting Classrooms programme is a fantastic place to start if you want to forge links with countries in North and Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. Connecting Classrooms provide a whole range of free, online Global Learning Resources, which allow pupils to work alongside their peers in the partner school to examine aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals through a variety of projects. This is really helpful for teachers who want to develop their pupils’ global understanding but don’t have lots of time to create whole units of work themselves. Of course, you could also plan a project independently but, for me personally, the Zero Hunger Project that we have worked on for the past couple of years in Year 5, alongside our partner school in Rwanda, has been very successful. Once a partnership has been established through Connecting Classrooms, then schools may also choose to apply for funding to carry out teacher exchanges, either individually or as a ‘cluster group’ of several schools, depending on the number of teachers involved.

The British Council also offer a really great Schools Partner Finder where teachers from anywhere in the world can register, search for partners and create links with schools all over the globe. Through this tool our school found a partner institution in Chad, with whom Year 4 have exchanged postcards over the course of the year.

Of course, we should never forget the power of personal connections. I have made links with schools abroad through people that I’ve met at weddings, conferences and via online groups. It was through a wonderful colleague in the Languages in Primary Schools Facebook Group that I was able to make contact with a partner in Senegal so that my Year 6 could find out more about the lives of children of their age living in Dakar through letters and video calls. When trying to find prospective partners, it’s also important to consider any parents or staff members who may have contacts in schools abroad and could help to facilitate partnerships. Sometimes it’s that personal link which helps to create and strengthen the collaboration between two schools.

Seek support from other schools in your local area and online:

When we were starting out on our International School Award journey, I really struggled to visualise how a truly embedded international dimension might look in my own school. Although the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms website has some great Case Studies, which demonstrate the sorts of international projects you might undertake with partner schools, there’s nothing better than actually sitting down with someone who’s already been though the process to help clarify how to go about it. I was so lucky to be able to visit the fabulous Lisa Stevens at her school in the West Midlands, as well as the wonderful Hannah Boydon at Mayflower Primary School, who really helped to inspire me with ideas and places to go for support. The brilliant Suzi Bewell is also a great person to follow on Twitter if you are looking for inspiration for international activities, particularly those with a cultural element. The British Council team can put you in touch with schools who have already achieved the International School Award in your local area and it’s well-worth making a visit to find out more about their journey and pick up useful hints and tips.

The British Council also offer lots of regular, free training webinars and workshops to support you in the process. You just need to contact the International School Award team, via the website, to book your place.

Don’t be afraid to adapt as you go:

For those applying for the Full Accreditation, what you put in your initial Action Plan is not necessarily what you will end up having done at the end of the twelve-month process. The school calendar is busy and there are always those unexpected bumps in the road, which may throw you off course slightly (see my Covid reference at the start of this post). Don’t forget, adapting your plans and changing things as you go along is the sign of a reflective practitioner and the flexibility of the school community. If an activity didn’t go to plan, don’t be afraid to say so in your Impact Evaluation and explain how you changed things or rethought the teaching process. It’s fine to substitute in new activities, as long as they meet the criteria set out by the British Council, and you can always submit more than the specified number in case you don’t feel 100% confident that an activity is exactly what the assessors will be looking for.

Gather evidence as you go:

In your submissions for any level of the International School Award, you will always be asked about how you intend to evidence different activities. This may include pictures and videos; posts on your school’s social media feeds; newspaper articles documenting your activities; and staff and pupil voice surveys, to name but a few. Make sure that you collect and organise evidence as you go, particularly things like staff and pupil voice surveys, which are always best done as soon after an activity as possible. I always collate and store any evidence of letter or postcard exchanges as well and they make brilliant displays, which really celebrate the work that your pupils have done and raise the profile of international projects and partnerships across the school. If possible, having an area of the school website dedicated to the international dimension of your school’s curriculum can be a great way of documenting your journey and storing evidence of all your activities.

Good luck to everyone embarking on their International School Award journey in the coming academic year! Just give me a shout if you need any support.

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