Developing Partnerships


Partnerships with schools in different parts of the world

Children and young people in school today will be adults in a world that is changing very fast.  In particular they will live in a world in which their lives are influenced by what happens in countries far away from their own. It is essential that they be prepared for this future, that they become adaptable, informed and fully prepared for life in a global society.  Yet many children and young people still have limited understanding of how people live in other parts of the world. Within the context of well-planned education for global citizenship, partnerships with schools in other parts of the world can make a significant contribution to children’s understanding of cultures, customs and lifestyles of different nations.  Partnerships can also help develop an appreciation of diversity and respect for other cultures, an sense of injustice and how it can be challenged, and an understanding of how the local and global are inter-connected.

Experience shows that there are significant benefits when a group or cluster of schools in one country links with a group of schools in another.  Staff and learners can share experiences and support each other’s links.  Working together with local education managers who can support new partner schools and understand better the contexts of the schools can also help school partnerships.

The relationship between schools in different parts of the world can bring challenges and needs careful planning and an understanding of the complex issues involved.

“It is a useful, first hand approach for challenging stereotypes and encouraging young people to explore, compare and contrast their own values and lifestyles with those of their international counterparts.”  (International Education: Responsible, Global Citizens, HMIE 2010)  

Beginning relationships

The most important aspect of starting a partnership is being clear that this is a schoolpartnership, not a partnership between individuals, or a one off project for a class group.  It is most effective when the whole school community, including school leaders, staff, parents and children participate from the beginning and are clear about the purpose of the link.  As it will take time and commitment from staff, it needs to become part of the school’s plan. When a link is first made, it may be advisable to plan one project initially, to find out whether the two schools can work together, and have similar aims within the partnership.  It can happen that schools can mistake partnership for sponsorship and be looking for a different kind of relationship.

Sustaining and developing partnerships

Evidence shows that the most successful partnerships develop when there are strong working relationships and mutual understanding between the staff groups involved.  In such relationships staff and in particular school leaders are clear about what they expect from the partnership, and regularly review what they are doing and plan next steps.  A partnership agreement, outlining expectations is a very good starting point.  This would outline the activities each school would commit to, for example exchanging of information, cultural exchange, and joint curricular projects.

Good communication is essential, and partner schools should have realistic expectations of each other and how they can communicate with you.  Email contact is ideal, but not all schools have access to computers and the Internet.  Mobile phones can be used for messages, but not for joint developments and sharing children’s work. Postal systems can experience regular disruption.  It is rare for communication to be easy and smooth.  Communication is not simply about sending messages, but it is about understanding and sharing what each school wants from the partnership and coping when one partner is overwhelmed with other commitments or when there are changes in staff.

Joint partner school activities

The greatest benefits from partnerships come when schools are involved in joint curricular activity.  This takes partner schools beyond superficial comparisons, and places all children’s learning at the centre of the partnership.  It is recommended to begin with small with short topics perhaps based on one curricular area.  Global issues such as sustainability, and shared interests and experiences are good staring points.  For example, water, food, transport, play, or recycling are good starting points for joint projects. In time the schools can work together on more abstract issues, such as equality, citizenship, democracy.  Sharing cultural experiences through the expressive arts (art, music, dance, drama, creative writing) is a very powerful way to develop respect and understanding of the universality of creativity.  Children and young people develop an increased understanding and knowledge of their own culture as well as their partner school’s through these activities.  Many schools find sharing an enterprise activity very effective.  When partnerships develop very well, there are limitless possibilities that can be explored.  The partnership can go beyond the school into the local community, with for example youth groups, and parent groups developing partnerships.

Exchange Visits

Exchange visits of staff and or learners can enrich a partnership, deepen understanding and help communication between partners.  Key to their success is ensuring that the outcomes from the exchange benefit the whole school community – not just those participating.  This should be embedded in the planning.  Visits are of most value when the groundwork in establishing a partnership has been achieved, and relationships are already strong.

Practical Support between Partner Schools

The most effective school partnership have, first and foremost, educational aims at their centre.  Partnerships based on the idea of ‘benefactor’ rather than ‘friend’ or ‘partner’ may reinforce rather than challenge stereotypes.  The link should help teachers and pupils think critically about underlying injustices and causes of poverty, rather than thinking of aid as a long-term solution.

However, within the context of mutual respect, and an attitude of “we can help each other and bring different things to our partnership”, there may be times when practical support can be appropriate.

It is important to recognise that there are many things that schools in both countries can offer to each other as part of their relationship as well as direct material support.  The offering of hospitality during exchange visits and the sharing of each other’s expertise and experience, for example, are some of the many things, which cannot simply be measured in economic terms and yet which are pivotal to the mutual relationships between teachers and learners in schools across the world.