A government-funded school exchange programme to help disadvantaged pupils travel abroad has been expanded to include primary pupils.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson announced today the international schools exchange programme will be funded for another year, and expanded to include children in years 5 and 6.
Launched last year, it is currently only open to secondary school pupils. Under the £2.5 million scheme, schools can apply for grants of up to £15,000 to visit partner schools around the world. However children from only 138 schools took part last year.
It’s “principally focused” on supporting children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The announcement comes after the government was criticised when most of its MPs voted against making future membership of the Erasmus+ programme an “objective” of negotiations.
The Department for Education has since said it will develop its own “alternative arrangements” for international exchanges if the UK drops out of Erasmus+.
Under the scheme, tens of millions of pounds in grants has been paid out to UK schools in recent years for exchanges, along with professional development opportunities for staff and collaborative projects with international partners.
Speaking today at the Education World Forum in London, with more than 100 education ministers from around the world, Williamson said: “Make no mistake, I want the UK to be the best place in the world to educate your child and make the most of people’s talents.
“As we step out into the world, our doors are open and our ambitions are bold. We will continue to learn from those countries excelling in areas like maths and will share with others the lessons we have learned. We will place a bigger focus on further and technical education and will continue to welcome hundreds of thousands of the best and brightest international students to our world-class universities.
“Achieving this comes by working in partnership with the rest of the world and that will not change.”
Williamson: Reforms to go “further and harder”
Williamson has vowed to push the Conservative party’s education reforms “further and harder” to “drive up standards in every single one of our schools”.
He said today that, in 2010, many “of our schools had gone into a state of decline”, adding the national curriculum had been “stripped of knowledge”.
“Soft skills were more in fashion; textbooks were out. We were stagnating in the international tables. But the most damning thing of all was that we were failing young pupils – particularly those from the poorest of backgrounds.”
However he said the government’s reforms – including a “knowledge-rich curriculum”, plus “more rigorous GCSEs” – had put the country in line with the highest-performing education systems in the world.
He said the reforms, which “weren’t easy changes to make and weren’t, by any stretch, universally popular”, are now “bearing fruit” – pointing to recent rises in PISA scores.
But he added: “I want to make clear today that this government intends to drive further and harder; to push on with our reforms for as long as it takes so that we drive up standards in every single one of our schools, for all our children and young people wherever they happen to live.
“We are in the middle of an education revolution in this country — one that began in 2010, and which won’t stop until the UK is the best place to educate your child anywhere in the world.”