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Keeping up the momentum!

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Running a successful school partnership for over 20 years is no mean feat! Ian Collen from Ballyclare High School tells us how they have developed their link with the Gymnasium Petrinum in Dorsten over the years to keep their joint activities thriving.

Eine erfolgreiche Schulpartnerschaft über 20 Jahre hinweg aufrechtzuerhalten ist eine erstaunliche Leistung. Ian Collen von der Ballyclare High School berichtet darüber, wie die beiden Schulen ihre Partnerschaft entwickelt und über die Jahre hinweg aktiv gestaltet haben.

How did your link with Germany start out?

The town of Ballyclare in Northern Ireland has been officially linked with Dorsten in Germany for over 50 years. The partnership between Ballyclare High School and Gymnasium Petrinum Dorsten started in 1990 when a teacher from Ballyclare High knocked on the door of the headmaster from the Dorsten school and asked to start a link! There has been an exchange of staff and pupils every year since.

How have you developed your activities over the years?

The link is a traditional school exchange and pupils stay with host families. However, we have endeavoured to develop curriculum collaboration between the two schools and over the years we have undertaken joint art, geography, music and drama events.

What obstacles did you encounter and how did you overcome them?

The biggest obstacle today is the need to police-check all host families in Northern Ireland. This can be onerous but once you get into a rhythm it becomes routine.

What have been the benefits to your pupils and the impact on your school?

The exchange is offered to pupils aged 13 to 18. This allows the impact of the exchange to be felt throughout the school. Our pupils have a real passion for German and we are convinced that the exchange has helped us to become the largest German department in Northern Ireland. We currently have around 75% of each year group opting to do German for GCSE; this is clearly bucking the national trend. At whole-school level, involvement in the exchange has allowed all departments to accelerate the international dimension of their schemes of work. The exchange has also helped us to achieve the full British Council International School Award on five occasions.

What are your plans for the future of the partnership?

Despite the fact that a number of schools in Northern Ireland are closing German, we see real value in the subject and are developing primary outreach initiatives to secure the long-term outlook. We are planning to bring the primary schools to Dorsten at Christmas time to see the Dorsten market and to interact with the 5. Klasse in Dorsten. We will also continue to offer the traditional exchange for the next 20 years at least!

Do you have any top tips for other teachers?

Start off small and then gradually build things up. Get in touch with UK-German Connection as they have a wealth of ideas to help your link take off! Viel Spass!

Ian Collen, 2013

This article is part of the UK-German featured partnerships series.


"The German group are always welcomed with great enthusiasm, and this has helped foster the international relations of the school."