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Taking a risk overseas – Headmaster’s Blog – 24 January 2017

January 24, 2017

I read this week in the Press with some alarm (but not without understanding) that, owing to the increased risk of terrorist attacks on mainland Europe, there had been a significant decline in foreign exchange trips. The ‘I’ newspaper reported: What was once a rite of passage for teenagers studying languages is increasingly being abandoned by headteachers due to the rise of terrorism in countries like France and Germany. In fact, as the ‘paper went on to explain, since the 1990s the school foreign exchange trip has gone into significant decline and after a 2014 YouGov survey for the British Council it was discovered that just 30% of state schools offer the trips although 77% of independent schools still provide exchanges. Three years on and the impression is of further slippage.

There are, of course, other factors at work here: rising costs as the pound takes a hammering, the concern over visa fees and entry controls once Brexit finally happens and increased paperwork, not least regarding safeguarding. I do ‘get’ this and appreciate that many factors need to be weighed up carefully. As someone who has taken trips out of the UK to the then USSR, the Netherlands, South Africa and Canada I appreciate the work involved and the care needed in the execution of trips. I also understand the concern over terrorism and crime and we should, of course, always consider Foreign Office advice. For example, going to South Africa with a girls’ hockey team definitely required special preparation in the face of reports about armed robberies and unrest but we assessed the risk, took advice, consulted widely and then proceeded with caution but also with confidence – and this trust was rewarded many times over. Two trips to the Soviet Union with sixth formers at a time when such trips were considered highly unusual – and as a serving CCF army officer – posed different obstacles but these were overcome to the great benefit of all of us on the trip (and, I trust, to our hosts, too).

It is, of course, a sad truism that terrorism can strike anywhere – as can the unforeseen accident or misfortune. At Ballard we still believe in the importance of calculated risk. At one level we let children climb trees (and, occasionally, fall out of them). We have foreign exchange trips to France, Germany and Spain – as well as a Year 6 residential trip to Normandy each year. Moreover, we have recently achieved the British Council’s accolade of ‘International Schools’ Award’ (not bad for a relatively small school in leafy Hampshire) and were privileged to be part of the Comenius Project for three years which took us into several European countries and enabled return visits here. Annually we welcome visitors from Japan and currently have a one-week visit of several Chinese pupils in Years 8 and 9. The English Department has been cultivating our link with Hebron School in India (pen pals). Just today one of our Year 11 girls was busy selling her home-baked cakes as part of the fundraising for our bi-annual expedition to Kenya. In 2015 this very trip was threatened by fears of growing unrest in northern Kenya. Rather than cancel it we decided to take advice and to re-schedule to go to Tanzania – although in the event Kenya was in fact safe to visit. It won’t be long, too, before senior pupils head off to New York – a trip that’s continuing despite a change in the Oval Office!

Just yesterday, in the first of our prestigious annual lecture series, we listened enthralled to ‘a globetrotting doctor’ whose brother had been at our school when it was Edinburgh House. Dr Iain Nicholson trained at Guy’s Hospital in London but, following an exciting time in Tanzania as part of his clinical studies (where he was left in charge of a men’s ward despite being ‘only’ a medical student and then went on to deliver three babies in short order – in another hospital, I might add!) he decided that service overseas was for him. This took him variously to Australia, Honk Kong and, for many years, to Saudi Arabia. He gave very good reasons for ‘opening our horizons’ and laid down a challenge that there was so much more to travel than just sitting on a beach and sipping cocktails!

I fear that if we listen too much to the naysayers and doom mongers and jump every time sometimes nasty happens beyond our shores, we shall retreat behind our coastline to defend ‘Little England’ and fail to benefit from not only the experience of mixing with people of other cultures and creeds but we will also rob them of meeting us and being able to impart something of our understanding and ideas! Now there’s a thought…

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here

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