Concern raised about international education activities in UK schools after Brexit

by Ray Clancy on January 11, 2019

Britain has never been known for its affinity with other languages in schools and now concerns are growing about international education activities after Brexit.

Almost half of state primary schools offer no international education activities and only a third of secondary schools offer international pupil exchanges which has prompted the British Council to call for change.


Photo by Monkey Business Images/

The organisation, which represents British cultural and educational interests globally, wants all young people to be given the chance to build their international experience. It points out that language skills and cultural awareness will be vital for the post-Brexit economy.

But 45% of state primary schools offer no international education activities beyond the basics of language teaching, according to British Council research in 692 primary schools and 785 secondary schools in England.

Of the secondary schools offering international exposure, trips abroad are the most popular form of international experience, with the vast majority, some 81%, offering excursions overseas.

However, pupil exchanges offering deeper experience in other cultures have declined. Only a third of secondary schools offer exchanges, partly due to funding pressures and greater child protection requirements. But there are other ways, such as virtual partnerships with schools overseas, in which students can build these important connections with other languages and cultures.

‘Pupils do not need to go on expensive trips abroad to have international awareness. International partnerships and projects in schools allow pupils of all backgrounds to experience other cultures and develop their intercultural skills. This is vital for a generation growing up in an increasingly connected world,’ said Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council.

An example of where it works is Reay Primary school in Lambeth, London, which has seen the impact of international activities on their pupils’ enthusiasm for language learning and their understanding of the world.

The school has worked with educators and experts in Spain, Zimbabwe and Portugal. Their international activities enable pupils to more confidently communicate with people from other cultures.

Indeed, Reay was recently accredited with the British Council International School Award for its excellent international curriculum and has moved from a ‘good’ rating to an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted rating.

Government figures show that lack of foreign language skills is costing the UK economy around £48 billion a year, or 3.5% of GDP. Cultural awareness is also crucial to trading, to effectively target products and lead negotiations.

‘The decline in international experience in our schools is regrettable as international awareness and skills are more vital than ever as the UK leaves the European Union,’ Gough added.

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