International mindedness in rural Devon

I recently attended a training workshop in Northampton, wearing a name badge showing my place of work. I usually attract attention for bearing a striking resemblance to Andy Murray (I have been asked to sign his autograph in the past) but this time the question was, “What is an International School doing in Sidmouth?!” It’s a perfectly valid question.

We are here, quite boldly put, trying to change the world; this is written in our Mission Statement as a school, and is a core part of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme which we deliver instead of the National Curriculum. At its heart, our curriculum focuses on development of children as human beings who naturally want to know about the world, and have the confidence, independence and initiative to find ways to make a positive difference. We cannot allow our children to be underprepared for an increasingly international and complex world, which does not yet exist.

Within the past month, our Year 5 and 6 classes have spent a week in Spain. We contacted Eiris, a sister school within our network of 21 schools around the world and partnered our children with buddies there, living in their houses, with their families, eating their food and attending their school. By the time they came to leave, children were obviously excited to be going home but were actually in tears to be leaving their new friends and families.

How else can we prepare our children to be internationally minded? They now have a full and vibrant experience of how other people live and how other people can be so different and yet still, in their own way, right. The amazing thing about it all is that within that short period of 6 days in Spain we were bumping into a myriad of children who had been to our school in the past few years, if only for a year or even a single term. And this is only in the Junior school! Senior school students in the past few years have been to Hungary, Ecuador, Florida, South Africa… take a quick tour of our school and I’d bet you will hear at least 5 different languages being spoken by pupils and staff alike.

The conclusion I’ve drawn from this whole experience is that we need to change our aims; all the 9-11 year old children we stayed with (and who stayed with us the week after) could speak at least a decent level of English. Over the next few years, we at St John’s are going to look hard at how we can get closer to the standard the rest of the world has, to raise bilingual children. With native Spanish-speaking teachers and carefully designed programmes of study, I believe this is something we can achieve. Watch this space…

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