Connecting internationally

Having spent six years teaching at a leading international school in South-East Asia, Matt Tighe was delighted to be appointed International Link Coordinator at Farlingaye High School in the UK. A central focus of his work now is developing an international mind-set that is both meaningful and practical for a school in semi-rural Suffolk.

Shaping inter-culturalism

We have every reason to be proud of our achievements at Farlingaye, which has enjoyed consistently high exam scores and is rated “Outstanding” by Ofsted. However, our successes are largely confined to the local region of East Anglia. Now we want to go further to create something deep rooted in terms of inter-culturalism. We are not interested in a token effort and the initiative will inevitably take time. After careful deliberation, we have planned three strands in our journey to securing deeper international links that will potentially benefit the staff, students and local community in the long run:

  1. Increasing our digital footprint
  2. Building on our British Council International Award
  3. Collaborating with schools abroad

If we can embed these three aspects into the fabric of our school, I am convinced that we will be able to establish valuable, significant and tangible links that will allow our community as a whole to become more internationally minded and, therefore, better connected to the global education scene.

1. Digital footprint

As a school, we are constantly striving to improve and develop. Staff benefit significantly from excellent in-house CPD, staff training days and cutting edge classroom technology. As a school community we have really benefited, but now we would like to share what we are doing and learning as a community more widely: developing a wider ‘digital footprint’ will enable us to demonstrate our teaching and learning initiatives to the wider education community. Raising our profile in this way will – digitally speaking – put us on the map and may open future opportunities that would otherwise not have existed.

If we can build our digital footprint then there is the possibility that other schools internationally and at home might look to us for collaboration. When teachers in other schools around the world search online for new ideas, the hope is that Farlingaye High School might become a valued source of new ideas and place us more prominently on the digital map.

Teacher shortage

There is a another motive. In a market place where teacher shortage is a genuine concern, we need to attract dynamic new staff, some of whom may be returning to the UK after a stint overseas. Coming back from abroad was a daunting prospect for my wife and I, because we were unsure how our international experience might be viewed by state school leaders. If a school shows that it values international experience in our staff, then there may be recruitment benefits for both parties in the long term.

2. The British Council International Award

The second strand of our international strategy is to demonstrate our commitment, and for this we chose an initiative from from the British Council, which offers a three tiered accreditation award. We have now secured the Foundation Award for this year and I am confident that there is enough going on in the school for us to secure the Intermediate Award in the coming months. Reaching full ‘Accreditation’ will then be the final target, but this will involve more staff and departments taking on the challenge of ‘connecting classrooms’ internationally and running projects together.

I am going to run a CPD for staff encouraging them to do exactly that and I am sure a number of my colleagues will step forward to take part. Working with The British Council has been rewarding so far: I have taken part in a two-day course on ‘critical thinking in the classroom’ and, having completed a school-based project, I can now apply for funding to visit another school abroad. The Council’s online platform allows me to connect with other schools all over the world. Funding for a trip abroad is always going to be a potential problem for a state school so this grant is ideal for building the foundations for a strong and meaningful international connection.

3. Collaborating with schools abroad

The third and final strand, for now, will be identifying and collaborating with schools abroad. The possibilities here are endless in terms of sharing: cultural and student exchanges, shared technology projects or even a mutual ‘critical friend’ relationship. However, the most important aspect should be connecting students internationally as part of developing their global perspective and preparing them as global citizens.

During my own time abroad, I know you can begin to lose sight of topical initiatives and changes that make curriculum planning from abroad more problematic. In fact, many international schools rely on new teachers bringing this innovation with them. However, having a British school partner might ease any uncertainty over course planning or assessment outcomes. Only good can come from collaboration projects if the outcomes are shared or mutual. Perhaps this article might be read by someone internationally who wishes to reach out to us with an idea – your contact would be most welcome!

The importance of reaching out

My own journey from state school teacher to international school teacher, and then back to a state school in the UK has been a wonderful professional and personal experience and I am excited by the potential to provide unique and vivid experiences for some of my colleagues and students in the long-term.

Furthermore, many young British people have been left feeling disenfranchised by the politics of our time that have pushed England further away from our global partners. It is important for us that we prepare our students to meet the international peers they will encounter in further education and in the workplaces of the future by increasing our own international education outlook.


Matt Tighe is the International Link Co-ordinator at Farlingaye High School, and worked in Thailand at Bangkok Patana School. He’d love to hear from you!




Feature image: Pixabay

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