Jill Bailey, British Council Schools Ambassador
Jill Bailey visits Jiaxing, China. Schools in Plymouth and Jiaxing have forged lasting international links through the International School Award (ISA) ©

Jill Bailey

Plymouth: A global city with an international focus

Jill Bailey tells us about her role as a British Council Schools Ambassador, her work with schools in Plymouth and the inspirational role the International Schools Award has played in schools in Plymouth in her own words...

About Plymouth

Plymouth is a coastal city in the south-west of England,. It is a port and naval base with a population of 263,287 (2019) and rising. In 1620 it was the scene of the Pilgrim Fathers' departure to North America in the Mayflower. With its rich maritime heritage and status as the regional capital for culture, Plymouth is a dynamic and fascinating place to visit. A diverse city, with a predominantly mono-cultural population 15 years ago, and a difference in life expectancy across the city of 13 years it was agreed that a focus on international education was essential.  Stakeholders including The Lord Mayor, Plymouth City Council officers, Councillors, Chamber of Commerce representatives, Higher and Further Education representatives, Head teachers and other key personnel drew up an international policy.

Through this collaboration and working closely with our schools we began to see results. Schools are industrious places and encouraging Head teachers and their staff to take on what could be seen as extra work wasn’t without its difficulties. With support from a range of agencies and recognising the benefits for the schools that had become involved, more schools gradually came on board. This resulted in 95 per cent of schools in Plymouth having partnerships with schools in one or more countries; curriculum extended to offer history, culture and language from different areas of the world; staff experienced in the education systems of other countries thereby enhancing their own practice; and projects with schools world-wide. Area links have brought other cultures into schools both physically and through other mediums and 100 per cent of Plymouth schools have a level of the International School Award.

About Jill and her work with schools in Plymouth

I have worked in international education for over 20 years, both as the Leadership Associate for International Education at Plymouth City Council and as a British Council Schools Ambassador. My work is predominantly with our wonderful schools but also across the city as a whole. The ever-changing world requires continual improvement in order to maintain what has been achieved. Working with organisations including those listed below that can market international opportunities to schools and provide support is key:

  • British Council
  • Ambassadors’ network
  • UK Global Learning Association for Schools
  • Plymouth City Council
  • Plymouth Teaching School Alliance (PTSA)CEOs of MATs
  • Devon Development Education Cultural groups e.g. Plymouth-Ghana Link; Devon+Cornwall Chinese Assoc.
  • Local businesses and organisations e.g. National Marine Aquarium

Keeping a high level of international engagement is now more challenging due to changes in schools/staff; curriculum modifications; working within MATs; pressures on school staff; time restrictions; funding and support which all need to be addressed.

What is the International School Award?

The British Council International School Award has always been at the heart of the work with schools and the larger community providing a framework for activities and partnerships. It is important here to mention the motivational role of John Rolfe, MBE, who has supported Plymouth and its schools since the ISA programme was launched in 1999, continually turning negatives into positives. The excellent programmes available also ensure our schools can find something to suit them and Ambassador assignments from the British Council have helped to support school engagement.

The opportunities to link with schools in other countries have resulted in City links between Plymouth and several other countries including China, Ghana, France, Nepal and the USA. These links were forged through British Council Area linking programmes; Twinning Associations; invitations from other countries; and cultural groups in Plymouth wishing to set up links with their homeland. We found that all partnerships, irrespective of size, need a structure of support in the partner country and having that in place is one of the reasons we have been successful. Help from nationals from the partner country living in Plymouth is also highly recommended especially with communication where language can sometimes be a hurdle.

The 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower in 2020 has strengthened the links with Plymouth, Massachusetts involving a huge range of joint activities including the Illuminate Light festival; exchanges of key personnel; school choirs visiting and performing in both cities annually; anthologies with work from children in both Plymouth’s and wonderful displays in ‘The Box’ and Mayflower Museums. 

The benefits of internationalism

International learning can be of significant benefit to school communities, irrespective of school type, size, or location.  It motivates learners by adding relevance and dynamism to lessons; helps young people develop an appreciation of cultural diversity and enjoy a better understanding of the world, and staff benefit from professional learning and growth through collaboration with colleagues in other countries. The success of any initiative is due to people working together and we are fortunate in Plymouth to have two other very experienced British Council Schools Ambassadors who offer support in addition to me and those working in our schools.

Currently Plymouth is involved with exciting and improved initiatives such as the 17 new school partnerships set up with Sekondi-Takoradi in Ghana.  This Link has been in place for many years but sometimes partnerships decline due to the movement of key staff or for other reasons.  Donna Briggs, British Council Schools Ambassador and Chair of the Plymouth-Ghana Link, has been central to this. Her role in the City as the Deputy Director of the Plymouth Teaching School Alliance has enabled her to attract new schools and offer relevant, collaborative projects for the schools to strengthen their partnerships. Donna has been supporting schools throughout her career to date initially as a classroom teacher and then through different roles as her career has progressed.  Her work with the International School Award has been outstanding.

Elspeth Wiltshire has been sharing good practice across the City for many years. She was Head of Languages and International Education at Devonport High School for Girls, one of the first schools to apply for the ISA in Plymouth. She has led numerous outstanding projects within the Connecting Classrooms, Comenius and Erasmus + programmes. Elspeth organised visits to the European Parliament in Strasbourg where sixth formers students from across the city took part in the Euroscola programme. Many considered it a unique opportunity and a life-changing one which impacted positively on their career prospects.  She was also involved in setting up the Peninsula Confucius Classroom which supported the teaching of the Chinese language and culture across the City.

International links: Plymouth and Jiaxing

Our link with Jiaxing, China is a particular success story with many school partnerships consolidated over the years. Key members of both Cities have taken part in exchange visits as well as numerous staff and young people.  Projects included a production of Romeo and Juliet with secondary aged students from the more deprived areas of Plymouth travelling to Jiaxing to rehearse and perform then returning with their new Chinese friends to perform in Plymouth. Seeing the young actors speaking their lines in different languages and without any hesitation was truly inspirational. This link continues with summer camps for Chinese students, new partnerships and reciprocal visits taking place.

Many of the activities carried out within area links and partnerships are included in International School Award applications. There has always been a focus on the ISA with annual presentations made by The Lord Mayor and John Rolfe, MBE, to successful schools that attain accreditation or re-accreditation as we feel it is essential to highlight their good practice. These usually take place in the Lord Mayor’s official residence, given to the City by Lady Astor, the first female MP to take up her seat in Parliament. It is in a stunning location on Plymouth Hoe and the staff and pupils really appreciate the occasion, learning about their City courtesy of the Lord Mayor and his Mace Bearer. As part of the event the young people give inspiring examples of the impact the activities within the ISA have had on them. We also hosted 3 of the South-West schools ISA presentations.

Looking to the future

With the right support, funding and enthusiastic schools and teachers nothing is impossible. We still talk about one partnership which involved an audience with the Pope and a live link-up between him, Holy Cross Catholic Primary School in Plymouth and St. John Vianney Basic School in The Gambia (no mean feat).The fact that partnerships are continuing in these difficult and uncertain times and that there are experienced, forward-thinking younger colleagues taking over the baton gives us great hope for the future of international education.  This together with the phenomenal staff and students in our schools will ensure that Plymouth remains a City that looks outwards across the world. 

 With grateful thanks to all those I have worked with over the years – you are an inspiration.

Jill Bailey - British Council Schools Ambassador

Find out more about the International School Award

Contact the International School Award team

The Internationalism Alliance

Plymouth International School Award
Pupils, teachers, British Council Schools Ambassador Jill Bailey and John Rolfe MBE celebrate the International School Award with the Lord Mayor of Plymouth ©

Jill Bailey