St Louis Grammar School Kilkeel, is bringing back the school exchange in a bid to encourage pupils to take up languages at GCSE and beyond.
Through the British Council, they’ve secured a Lefévre grant to visit their partner school, Lyceé de l’Authie in Doullens, Northern France next March, with a reciprocal visit planned for April.
For St Louis, school exchanges, which are slowly becoming less common, will help instil a love of French, enable pupils to experience French culture first hand and boost confidence before key exams.
The visit was organised by Head of French, Mlle Jessica Koquert, who is keen to encourage more pupils to learn languages.
She said: "Being able to take part in a French exchange scheme is beneficial to both me and my pupils. It puts French into context and makes it relevant. Being completely immersed in the language actually forces my students to speak to real people and I've seen their language skills really improve.I t makes French relevant and helps them understand that language has a place in their future.”
For St Louis, the project began four years ago with the students writing letters to their French pen pals and their partner school visiting Northern Ireland last year.
She said: "Everyone in the school really got behind the French visit and we took them to the Omagh History park, The Giants Causeway and to Stormont, and even held an assembly in their honour. They're coming back in 2016 and we're really looking forward to seeing them again. It's great for the pupils to meet their pen pals face to face, develop new friendships and see that learning a language is actually worthwhile.
"I think school exchanges can encourage more pupils to learn a foreign language. Now because languages are no longer compulsory at GCSE, our numbers are declining year on year — but it's important for our pupils to realise what they may gain from the subject; especially for their future careers and for life in general."
Also Speaking about the programme was Jonathan Stewart, Deputy Director, British Council Northern Ireland.
He said: “As we seek to tackle a decline in the take up of languages and a lack of international skills among young people entering the world of work, reviving school exchanges can be a practical way for engaging young people in other cultures – and the British Council endeavours to do everything we can to help schools make this possible.
“Well managed school exchanges can be great opportunities for pupils to really immerse themselves in another language and understand a new culture. Hopefully more schools will of avail of schemes such as the Lefévre grant in the future.”
The British Council has produced a set of free resources for schools to help them organise exchange trips and deal with issues including child protection and risk assessments.