Health and safety fears grounding foreign exchange trips

New research suggests that concerns over health and safety are triggering a decline in the number of students partaking in foreign exchange trips.

The British Council study attributes this decrease as driving a national “crisis” in the number of schoolchildren acquiring languages such as French, German and Spanish to a high standard.

“For many of us, that first school exchange trip was a real ‘light bulb moment’ that got us excited about learning a language and understanding another culture,” Vicky Gough, the Council’s schools adviser, said in comments to the Telegraph.

The British Council contacted 450 school leaders in Britain as part of the research. Headteachers highlighted health and safety concerns as a top reason for veering away from exchange visits. This was followed by fears that students would miss out on too much valuable lesson time.

Ms Gough added: “It’s a shame that these exchanges have fallen victim to things like safety concerns – which can actually be easily remedied with the right steps. As we seek to tackle a national language crisis and a lack of international skills among young people entering the world of work, reviving school exchanges is vital.”

“Common sense” approach to health and safety

Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, cast a questionmark over the Council’s research, urging schools to adopt a “common sense” approach to health and safety.

“Learning a language is hugely important in a great trading nation like Britain and state schools should not be put off from sending young people on exchange programmes by an over-interpretation of health and safety regulations,” said Mr Gibb.

“Common sense should be the driving force and I want to see as many state school pupils on exchange visits as we see in the independent sector.”

The British Council is launching a campaign to help young persons gain international experiences. Schools will be able to access a series of free resources to help them set up exchanges, whilst taking into account child protection rules and risk assessment exercises.

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