Sister school partnerships

From Term 1 2017, Victorian government and Catholic schools will use the new Victorian Curriculum F-10. Curriculum related information is currently being reviewed and may be subject to change.

For more information on the curriculum, see:
The Victorian Curriculum F–10 - VCAA

Among several initiatives to support the learning of languages in schools, the Victorian Government’s Vision for Languages Education specifically includes the commitment to strengthening the sister school program within the Department.

Definition of a sister school partnership

A sister school partnership is a meaningful, reciprocal and sustainable long-term partnership between two schools aimed at fulfilling a range of purposes as determined by the school communities. Sister school partnerships can be intrastate, interstate or international and are based on the principles of mutual benefit and reciprocity.

Sister school partnerships can be aimed at:

  • broadening students' perspectives
  • developing students' intercultural understanding
  • enhancing student language learning
  • contributing to a whole school program of internationalisation
    building teacher capacity

The opportunity to develop a sister school partnership is open to any school.

While much of the material in this resource focuses on international sister school partnerships, the general principles remain the same for interstate and intrastate partnerships.

Why engage in a sister school partnership?

Government policy underpinnings

The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (MCEETYA 2008), ratified by all State and territory education Ministers, set the goals for Australian education to develop young Australians into '… active and informed citizens, who are able to relate to and communicate across cultures, especially the cultures and countries of Asia, and are responsible global and local citizens.'

The development and successful implementation of sister school partnerships is an excellent mechanism for building intercultural understanding and a sense of global citizenship in students and school staff.

The Victorian Government's long-term commitment to prioritise languages education in Victorian schools is reflected in the Vision for Languages Education. Sister school partnerships can enhance the language program in your school, if your sister school's language is the native language of your sister school.

Benefits of sister school partnerships

The key findings from DEECD sister school research indicate that sister school programs have a significant positive effect on the global awareness and attitudes of school students. The benefits are of greatest significance during the third year of partnerships, once they are well established.

Effective sister school partnerships can have profound and positive impact on a range of areas of school education, including:

  • Student learning
  • Teacher capability
  • Curriculum, including language learning and intercultural understanding
  • Whole school improvement
  • Community engagement

The most commonly reported benefit of sister school partnerships from principals and teachers surveyed in the DEECD sister school research was the contributions made to intercultural understanding within the school community, followed by an increased understanding of one's own culture and country.

For students, benefits include:

  • development of intercultural understanding and sensitivity, and an appreciation of different points of view
  • development of 21st century skills to enable critical thinking, cross-cultural collaboration and a positive attitude to diversity
  • greater competency and confidence in language learning and communication skills and renewed enthusiasm for language learning
  • enhanced information communication and technology skills as students interact through wikis, blogs and Skype
  • tangible illustration of the concept of global interconnectedness incorporating authentic collaborative learning activities
  • opportunities for students to locate and explore common ground, bringing a unique intercultural element to collaborative learning
  • development of cross-cultural communication and diplomacy skills and a deeper understanding of international issues
  • development of international friendships and networks
  • increasing awareness of and comfort level with different styles of teaching

For school staff, benefits include:

  • opportunities to benchmark practice against other school systems
  • development of intercultural understanding and sensitivity, and an appreciation of different points of view
  • increased awareness of different education systems, including pedagogies and curriculum
  • greater competency and confidence in language learning and communication skills
  • strengthened information and communication technology skills

For the school community, benefits include:

  • Development of global networks and perspectives, with the flow-on effect of internationalising the ethos of the whole school community
  • Raising the profile of language learning across the school community
Types of sister school partnerships

There are many different types of sister school partnerships, aimed at fulfilling a range of purposes determined by local needs. The examples below may be useful to inform the possible activities developed under a sister school partnership.

Language-based partnerships
The primary aim of the sister school partnership is to improve language learning among students.

Community link programs
The sister school partnership is developed out of a community link program, for example an existing 'sister city' program.

Topic-specific partnerships
The link between schools is planned around a particular area of work for students to engage in and collaborate on.

Structured programs
Some sister school partnerships are based around a structured program – these partnerships are generally formalised and involve a portfolio of activities, e.g. The Australia-Asia BRIDGE program (Building Relationships through Intercultural Dialogue and Growing Engagement.

ICT-based links
Some sister school partnerships are driven from an information and communications technology (ICT) perspective. These partnerships are suitable for all ages, can be easily set up, managed and moderated. For example, the Australian AsiaConnexions video conferences; the British Council provides information on 'ePal' programs for developing emailing links between students.

Social justice-based partnerships
The sister school partnership focuses on a deep and meaningful collaborative project that has an explicit shared purpose on a social responsibility project.

Professional development programs
The focus of the sister school partnership is on sharing pedagogy, curriculum ideas and resources among teachers and other school staff.

Cultural-exchange partnerships

The focus of the partnership is on the intercultural understanding.

Region-specific programs
Some sister school partnerships are region-specific, with schools specifically targeting partnerships with a particular area or country. For example, the former Eastern Metropolitan Region's partnership with Suzhou Education Bureau in China saw over 40 schools in the region partnering with schools in Suzhou.

Networked programs
Some sister school partnerships may involve a networked group of schools (and potentially other organisations) which come together for a particular aim, for example, shared collaborative projects, promotion of intercultural understanding, social justice etc. For example, Team Bendigo China Sister School Project involves 14 primary schools in the area. Each school has a sister school, but they work together as a network.

Whole-school partnerships
This involves a partnership where staff and students get to know one another on a deeper level, work together and potentially undertake reciprocal visits. The impact of the partnership permeates the school, with influence on multiple student age groups and/or disciplines.

Sister school resource kit

In this resource you will find information about effective sister school partnerships and how they can contribute to preparing your students for life as active and engaged citizens with a global outlook. See: Sister School Resource Kit

Finding a sister school

Schools Connect portal is an online platform that connects Victorian schools with school around the world for sister school partnerships or for project collaboration.

Go to Schools Connect