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German exchange extra

How many of us struggle to keep a language exchange going? Our exchange (with a Realschule, Germany) was set up 33 years ago. Now staff are keen to keep it going but not all students are so enthusiastic. So we decided to move away from the traditional language exchange and have a "focus" for each visit, with the potential to extend opportunities to more students and revitalise the link.

Inviting a group of musicians from our German school added some extra excitement. As before, they stayed with families, mostly in pairs. Visits were shorter - up to four days - but they spent time in school and went on trips. The strength of the link was dramatically highlighted when Ilona, the guest of Rebecca, discovered the amazing coincidence that her mother had stayed as the partner of Rebecca's mother 25 years ago. The high spots were the two concerts we performed in school. We are now planning a return trip with a sports focus, organised by the PE and modern foreign language departments. Staff exchange trips have established the idea of a whole-school link rather than one just for language teachers.

The new structure of GCSE German is not ideal, but students can still be offered an exchange. And others can gain a lot from being abroad, living with a family and performing in music, sport or drama. We hope we have found the formula to move our exchange on and we look forward to another 33 years.

Jane Maguire, able and talented co-ordinator, North Walsham High School, Norfolk

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