Parents should consider sending their child on a school foreign exchange rather than spending money on a week in Majorca, a headteacher has suggested.
Young people are likely to learn more on a cultural break in a city such as Madrid or Barcelona than they are sitting on a beach, according to Caroline Jordan, headmistress of Headington School in Oxford and the new president of the Girls’ Schools Association.
Setting up a foreign exchange for students did not have to be expensive, Ms Jordan said.
“It’s trying to convince the parents that that’s good use of their finances as opposed to a foreign holiday to Majorca, where they may well be in a Spanish environment but they’re less likely to be experiencing Spanish as they would be if they were in somewhere like Madrid or Barcelona on exchange,” she said.
“Exchange is very important and we know that languages is a real area of concern in this country. The government is doing quite a lot about this by trying to encourage all children to take a language through the English Baccalaureate.”
Figures show that last year, there was a drop in language GCSE entries, with French down 6.2 per cent on 2014, German down 9.8 per cent and Spanish down 2.4 per cent.
As well as ensuring that children learned a foreign language, Ms Jordan added that it was important that modern teenagers were given the opportunity to consider studying at a university overseas, arguing that it could be beneficial to them later on.
“These days we’re living very much in a global village,” she said. “Whereas when we were at school people would emigrate, emigrate is a word you don’t hear very often any more.
“Our youngsters will think nothing about going to work for two years in Vancouver or a year in Singapore. So how do we give them those skills when they’re at school?”
Ms Jordan said that at Headington, a private girls’ school for four- to 18-year-olds, pupils were given the chance to study for the International Baccalaureate in the sixth-form and there exchanges and partnerships were organised with schools in places such as Australia and China.
The school also puts on an overseas university fair, also open to state schools, to allow teenagers to find out more about studying abroad.
Pupils could now study medicine or English in Prague or Milan, Ms Jordan said, and some overseas universities could be cheaper than the UK.
“I think parents are thinking more selectively and children are thinking more selectively about where they’re going to go to university,” she added. “And of course, if you come back to this country and you have been educated at a university abroad, that gives you an extra thing to put on your CV.
“Sometimes pointing out the difference in finance is a very attractive argument, because I think a lot of people are concerned, quite rightly, about graduate debt and the other advantages are the fact that when you come back to the UK, you’ve been able to spend three or four years in another country, maybe picking up their language, learning to be able to live on your own and be a little bit more self-sufficient, makes you much more employable.
“Also, it’s not always that difficult to do. They’re perhaps slightly easier to get into, but they’re more rigorous about making sure you continue to work on the course.”
“You have to continue to show that you are worthy of the place and keep working,” she added. “I think employers are waking up to that fact and realising that it’s a good degree for that reason.”