Hosting visits from sister schools

Overseas students who visit Victorian schools under sister school arrangements typically come to Australia on a tourist visa.  This visa enables students to undertake a school experience combined with a cultural tour for a maximum duration of 12 weeks. Schools are not required to enrol these students on CASES.

Hosting visitors from sister schools can be as rewarding and valuable as visiting a sister school and is an opportunity to repay the hospitality you received while visiting your sister school.

Whilst the planning for hosting visits takes less time than planning a visit to sister schools, you shouldn’t feel pressured to host if the timing is not right and if you don’t think you have adequate time to organise hosting. Politely communicate your situation and concerns to your sister school and offer an alternative date.

Schools are advised to check the relevant policy on SPAG (and/or relevant sectoral guidelines) about the implications of hosting visits from overseas sister schools. See: Sister School Partnerships

Duty of care

Schools have a duty of care for visiting overseas students, and must ensure their safety and wellbeing, including after hours and weekends. Schools must ensure that the overseas visitors (students and teachers) have appropriate medical insurance while in Victoria. Schools also need to ensure that they develop an emergency/risk management plan when planning for visits from their sister schools.
For a check list that will help you track that all information is collected and disseminated to relevant parties, see: check list (docx - 42.03kb)

Risk management

Schools must carefully consider all of the risks associated with hosting sister school students and prepare a Risk Management Plan. The responsibility for risk management lies with the principal and the school council.

For more information, see: Risk Management

Emergency management

Schools must also extend their Emergency Management Plan to include the sister school students. This should include:

  • Procedures in the event of an emergency involving the sister school students
  • Procedures for sister school students to report any problems at school
  • Procedures for students to report any problems in relation to their homestay
  • A person/s nominated to be responsible for responding to critical incidents.

Information about emergency procedures and contacts should be communicated to sister school staff and students.

For more information, see: Emergency Management Planning

Student information

Schools must ensure that they collect adequate information from the sister school students and retain such information on the schools’ file in case it is required, for instance, in an emergency situation. Such information should include:

  • Student’s name and date of birth
  • Identification eg. copy of passport and visas
  • Parents/guardians’ names and contact details
  • Emergency contacts
  • Information on medical conditions and consent to provide this information to the student’s homestay family

Student Medical Information

Schools must also ensure that they have received the sister school students’ medical information. The host family should be provided with a copy of this medical information with the student and their parent/guardians signed consent.

Suitability of host families and homestays

Schools must give careful consideration to the suitability of any homestay residences where sister school students will stay. This should include:

  • Consideration of the suitability of all persons who will be in the host family’s household for the duration of the student’s stay.
  • Consideration of the age, maturity, physical characteristics and gender of the sister school student.
  • Requirement that current Working With Children Checks be provided to the school
  • Having a school representative visit the host families’ residences to assess suitability of living arrangements. For instance sleeping arrangements, food to be provided, study facilities available to the student, pets, smoking or alcohol consumption habits.
  • Ensuring that the Victorian school informs the host families of any significant cultural differences to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Ensuring that the levels of supervision provided by the host family are appropriate, including supervision to and from school and outside school hours
  • Ensuring that the host family has appropriate training and experience to be able to manage the sister school students’ medical conditions.

Providing information to sister school students and their families

In preparation for sister-school students to travel to Victoria, it would be prudent for Victorian Schools to provide the sister school students and their families with relevant information prior to their departure. This would include:

  • General information about the school, communication of school policies and expectations
  • General information about Australia, including any significant cultural differences to avoid misunderstandings.
  • As much information about the students’ host families. For example levels of parental supervision, sleeping arrangements, and how the student will travel to and from school.

Before hosting the visit

Liaising/planning with sister school

Careful and adequate planning will ensure the success of reciprocal visits. Hosting visits is no exception If you have planned visits to your sister school with homestay arrangements, reverse the thinking when getting ready for hosting the visit from your sister school.

In some instances, your sister school will rely on you for advice about arrangements such as visa, in-country travel.

Make sure you have procedures and protocols well established around communication. A working committee headed by a sister school champion is highly desirable to facilitate the planning and decision making.

Find out the details about the impending visit by your sister school as soon as possible, including the number of students, accompanying teachers, number of days in school and accommodation requirements. Be respectful but value-add where possible to the itinerary. You could offer to design the in-school program as the host. For more information, see: sample in-school program (doc - 60.5kb)

Very often, you will be asked to issue an invitation letter to facilitate the visa application. The letter should specify the exact time of visit, length of stay and in-country activities. For more information, see: sample invitation letter (doc - 53.5kb).

Liaising with travel agents

Some elements of your partnership may involve collaboration with third parties such as travel agents. This may be the case if you are hosting a visit from your sister school. It is essential to communicate your expectations to the agent and to the visiting school to ensure a smooth program.

If this is your first experience of hosting a visit from your sister school you may be comfortable with having the agent arrange many of the logistics of the program for the visit. Or you may wish them only to take control of the travel arrangements and leave the rest of the program organisation to your school. Either of these options is acceptable but be clear about your school’s roles and responsibilities and those of the third party such as the travel agent. By being clear and up front in your communication, you can alleviate any concerns the agent has about the handover of responsibility and duty of care during the visit.

Information for teachers, students and parents

It is essential that you keep your school community informed of the visit from your sister school. This can be done either via school newsletter or a special letter home. Effective and transparent communication at all stages of the visit will ensure the smooth hosting, including soliciting support such as securing host families.

Identification of home stay families

Homestay provides visitors an excellent opportunity to improve their English and to learn more about Australian culture and for host families to develop their language skills, social skills and intercultural understanding.

If a homestay arrangement is preferred by your sister school, it is important at this stage of planning that the host school starts to ascertain interest from their school community as potential host families. Host family information is required as part of the visa application for some countries.

It is school’s responsibility to identify suitable host families and undertake appropriate actions to comply with the Department’s policy, including Working With Children Check for all adults over 18 years old who are regularly in the host family home. For more information, see: Working With Children Check

For advice on homestay arrangements, see: Homestay Guidelines for Hosting Sister School Students (docm - 304.98kb)

Pre-hosting teaching and learning

Ideally, the visiting students should have been collaborating with the host students long before the visit. The visit provides the opportunity for them to meet in person and is part of the learning.

It is important to provide visiting students some classroom time while visiting, so they can experience Victorian schooling and connect with students in an authentic environment. Planning of classroom placement before the visit will ensure minimal disruption to the classes.

Once the host classes are identified, students can commence dialogue about the expectations and discuss logistics if appropriate, using technology. Enquiry-based learning projects can also be planned at this stage. Some possible topics for investigation include: comparison of the schooling experience, i.e. the subject offerings, school time, term time, similarities and differences of family structures, cities studies, i.e. population, land features, and tourist attractions. English language classes (English as an Additional Language) can be part of the in-school program.

Hosting visits from overseas can be great professional learning opportunities for teachers. Time to meet with and share with visiting teachers should be put aside to build relationships and to develop common understanding of issues of interest to both parties. Plan ahead and agree on topics for joint investigation and discussion.

Pre-hosting data collection is useful to establish a baseline of students’ cultural knowledge and intercultural understanding for comparison post-hosting. This can be a learning activity led by students themselves.

Plan your publicity arrangements so the interactions can be captured and shared with your local community. Local newspapers, radio stations, can be engaged for publicity during and after the visits.

During sister school visit

Airport pick up

Airport pick up sometimes can be done by the travel organisation/agent that the overseas sister school engages. Alternatively you could offer pick up from airport and drop off at school. Many schools ask the host families to meet with the visitors at the school and then take them home.


Schools may wish to conduct a formal welcome during the school assembly, inviting host families where appropriate. Student and staff speakers sometimes can be invited as part of the ceremony. Try to identify a staff member, student, or parent who can speak the language of the visitors to act as an interpreter.

Class placement

The pre-planned teaching and learning activities can be followed through during class placement. It is reasonable to continue with your normal school program, but allow special time for visiting students.

It is sometimes relevant to plan an excursion for both host classes and visiting students, as part of the teaching and learning program or as a friendship building activity. A city experience is generally welcomed by visiting students.


A trip to some other primary and secondary schools could be considered to give your visitors even broader experience. You could also plan joint hosting activities with neighbouring schools.

Gift giving and certificate of participation

Farewell usually is combined with the presentation of the research projects and/or findings and learnings from both the host and visitors. It is also common to have a presentation of a certificate of participation(doc - 90 (doc - 50.5kb)for visiting students.

 Some schools exchange gifts at the farewell function as a memento of friendship. Gifts should be culturally appropriate, and are similar in value of those received. Products that represent Australian culture are most popular, but do check labels to ensure that they are made in Australia. Gift ideas include: a product of student collaborative work, items representative of Australia/Victoria/Melbourne, eg. art and craft of Australian/Victorian motifs, including Aboriginal art, Australian football, a book about Melbourne. Observe appropriate cultural protocols when presenting and receiving gifts.

After hosting sister school visit

Post hosting teaching and learning

Like all teaching and learning activities, there is the need for assessment and evaluation of the learning outcomes. Plan activities that will enable students to reflect on the hosting experience and their knowledge base and revisit the pre-hosting teaching and learning goals.

Collaborative activities can also take place with visiting students to consolidate the learning outcomes and friendship bond.

Reflection and evaluation

Encourage students to continue the friendship after the visitors have left the school. At a class level, seize the opportunity to continue developing intercultural understanding through reflection, and exchange these reflection with sister school students.


As a school, it is important to take time to take stock, reflect on the experience, and adjust communication and processes for future hosting activities. A host family survey (docx - 104 (docx - 51.69kb) can be conducted to help identify issues and good practice.