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'With Ofsted focusing on curriculum development, schools could do a lot worse than look for international inspiration'

Developing an international curriculum can help schools to broaden horizons, improve student engagement and help with teacher CPD – but it must be more than just an initiative in the MFL department

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Developing an international curriculum can help schools to broaden horizons, improve student engagement and help with teacher CPD – but it must be more than just an initiative in the MFL department

How can we give our children a broad and balanced curriculum? How can we help our children learn about other cultures? How can we make their learning relevant? These are some of the questions school leaders across the country are asking right now. Through links with schools internationally, we can answer some of these questions and help our young people develop the knowledge, skills and values to live and work in a globalised economy.

We, as educators, constantly want to widen learners’ understanding of local, national and global communities.

With Ofsted now promoting "a curriculum that has suitable breadth, depth and relevance", developing an international dimension can be part of the solution. Through an international partnership, the pupils get to apply what they learn in class in a real-world context; it personalises their learning.

When children learn from peers in another country, it has an added value as it offers the children the opportunity to see their world differently: to appreciate that it is delicate; to understand that they can make a difference and most importantly, to speak up when it is in danger.

There is a growing agreement that schools should not just be looking for only good grades –they should also be communicating values, life skills and attitudes, helping them to be confident citizens of this increasingly global world.  

Many schools worry about fitting the demands of an international partnership into an already overcrowded curriculum. However, international work can add depth and value to the curriculum. For example, the diverse mix of religions and ethnicities in a partner school can help to deepen RE lessons by encouraging the children in both schools to question each other about their beliefs.

Students in some parts of the country have very little exposure to different cultures and so by introducing an ‘education with an international outlook’ into school, we can find a way to bring other cultures to them, giving them a rounder understanding of the world, and preparing them for the future in our changing society. Through planning a global dimension into your teaching, links can be made between local and global issues, issues that the children may have seen in the news and media. In turn, pupils are given the chance to evaluate their own attitudes to these issues, as well as to appreciate that throughout the world people and children have similarities and differences.

The international dimension and the breadth of the curriculum along with its associated activities contribute strongly to creating an important and distinctive characteristic of a school. Although this role can sit within the remit of the foreign languages department, it has equally been done well by members of staff in other areas. Within school, teams could be built to develop the international dimension; providing opportunities for staff from other departments/faculties/year groups to work together. It unites staff in a common cause. It is much more extensive than the work of one teacher in the language department and therefore its impact is all the more far-reaching.

Also not to be underestimated is the role international partnerships can play in staff CPD. Through programmes such as eTwinning, teachers can learn and gain important skills from likeminded teachers throughout Europe and beyond. International collaboration between schools can ensure opportunities to share best practice and learn from best practice. One only has to look at the emphasis that is being put on this during this month’s International Festival of Learning. Or the importance the British Council places upon this through their education programmes, like the International School Award, which promotes global collaboration as a stimulus for the curriculum, ensuring children have the chance to use their core skills across the board, broadening horizons, boosting motivation and making learning more relevant to today’s global world.

Stewart Cook is a teacher at Frances Olive Anderson Primary School in Lincolnshire and John Rolfe works for the British Council in a variety of educational roles

The British Council is supporting the forthcoming International Festival of Learning in Bury St Edmunds on 16 April at West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmunds. Tes is the media partner. Tickets are available at

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