School exchange trips are on the decline and fewer British pupils are opting to take languages at GCSE or A-Level. The situation is worst in state schools, where pupils are half as likely to be offered the chance to go on exchange trips as their private-school peers.
None of this is good news for Britain’s place in the international labour market – or us culturally.
Teachers blame the drop in foreign exchange trips on concerns over the children’s health and safety and on their impact on schools’ ability to hit targets. Government funding cuts have played their part too.
These are the findings of a YouGov survey carried out on behalf of the British Council. Of the 450 schools that took part, less than 40% offered their pupils any foreign trips that included staying with families.
Small wonder then that British pupils recently came bottom in a test of competence in foreign languages in 14 European countries.
Back in the 1980s, my school offered trips to both France and Germany. The French visits were to Grenoble, and skiing featured heavily in the itinerary. I didn’t fancy that – but I loved the trips to Paderborn in Germany. I am still in touch with the family I stayed with there. I count Stefanie, my exchange partner, among my friends today.
“I am still in touch with the family I stayed with. I count Stefanie, my exchange partner, among my friends today”
Trips like that helped open my mind to new and exciting possibilities. I went on to study French and German at university and to work in Paris, Brussels and across Germany. They have even led to this blog and to my future plans to move to France.
In short, they can be life-changing.