The exchange partnership with Germany started in 1990, when Mrs Allan was asked by the Board of Governors to find a German school which would offer an exchange experience to suit Wellington, then a girls’ boarding school. At the time, the Mallinckrodt-Gymnasium had just started to become co-educational and had recently moved from old cramped buildings to its present purpose-built accommodation. Wellington families agreed to host some of the boys as well as girls at first, and we had two joint exchanges with Kelvinside Academy, but since 1999 we too have had male and female pupils going on exchange. Since 1999 we have also visited the Dortmund in December after first trying visits in May and February. (In May we had a pupil with heatstroke, and one February one pupil was treated for signs of hypothermia – who says the weather in Scotland is bad?!)
The Mallinckrodt-Gymnasium is a co-educational senior secondary school in the centre of Dortmund. Its pupils range in age from 10 to 18, and it is an academically selective school financed by the Roman Catholic Church. It offers a number of contrasts to Wellington; our locations, the size of the schools and the school buildings are very different, but this seems to offer a variety which our pupils enjoy. In Germany there are about 900 pupils in a modern school with a huge sports hall and the recent addition of a cafeteria in Dortmund city centre. Wellington pupils thoroughly enjoy the atmosphere of the Christmas Market and the freedom to spend time in the city in the afternoon, when their exchange partners do not always have classes. Using public transport is a novelty too. Mallinckrodt pupils love being at the seaside and find our buildings and uniforms amusing. For the S2/S3 exchange we arrange excursions and workshops so that pupils do not attend regular classes, where the lesson content might be difficult to follow. The programmes in Ayr and Dortmund are quite different and reflect the fact that our German friends start school at 8 in the morning and finish early in the afternoon, while we have a fixed 9 to 4 day. Both German and Wellington pupils adapt to a different routine, a different school day and the differences in family life, but they also see that people their age in another country have similar interests, problems and concerns. With the support of friends they grow in independence and learn to support and rely on each other. Each exchange group gives pupils new friends within their own school, and some of the partnerships continue, especially now that social media makes contact so easy.
Pupils in S2 and S3 have been able to visit our partner school every two years, and then in 1999 we took an orchestra to celebrate the first ten years of our partnership. Since then some pupils studying German have also been offered the opportunity each year to spend a week in the school and stay with a host family on their own. By this stage they are able to follow the subjects they are studying and gain more insight into different styles of teaching and assessment. They are more aware that attitudes to education, the environment and authority vary and they can appreciate a different approach. More exposure to the language is a clear advantage, of course.
The most important element in a successful exchange is clearly giving the partners a common goal. Early on, the customary introductory games became joint workshops where German and Wellington pupils worked together to make something or complete a task. We have had exchanges with a focus on sporting activities and music, but the joint concerts in 1999/2000 and 2015/6 left the participants on a high, talking of the feeling of common achievement. There are always some tears on departure and many stories to tell when we get home.