Die British-German Association im Porträt

Portrait of the British-German Association (BGA)

In a nutshell, what is the British-German Association, why was it set up and what is its purpose today? (Answered by Peter Barnes, BGA Chairman)

The British-German Association (BGA) is an educational charity and membership organisation, founded in 1951, to promote mutual understanding and good relations between the UK and Germany. This year, the BGA is celebrating its 70th anniversary. Our work today is based on three pillars: Forum, Umbrella, Bridge.

Forum

  • We organise a wide variety of events each year, which contribute to public education about the history, culture, economics, and politics of Germany and about the relations between Germany and the UK.
  • The BGA provides our members with a monthly newsletter, which includes links to cultural resources, as well as a quiz, word, and quote of the month.
  • This year, we pioneered our first podcast series, “Understanding Germany”, in which we provide insights into, and in-depth discussions about, modern German society.

Umbrella

  • The BGA works to improve communication and coordination between other British voluntary organisations involved with the UK and Germany. We work with regional British-German Associations and town-twinning associations around the UK. We are also seeking to establish a voluntary presence around the UK, and to this end have appointed a Northern Chairman and representatives in Kent and Surrey.
  • Through our Youthbridge arm, we seek to promote the teaching of German in British schools. We already work with over 200 schools and are in the process of expanding this number.

Bridge

  • The BGA promotes closer contact and constructive working relationships between the UK and Germany at the Governmental, Parliamentary, regional and university levels. In doing so, we work closely with the German Embassy in London, with the British Embassy in Berlin, and with our German sister organisation, the Deutsch-Britische Gesellschaft.
  • A recent focus of our work has been to help establish new strategic partnerships between major British and German regions. The first such partnership, between Greater Manchester and the Ruhr Metropole, was signed in early September this year.

v.l.n.r.: Oliver St. John (BGA Strategic Partnerships Executive), Rafe Courage (British Consul-General, Düsseldorf), Richard Carter (Chairman, North England) and Peter Barnes (BGA Chairman) – Foto: BGA

Town twinnings are historically the backbone of German British relations. Which role do they play in the UK? (Answered by Peter Barnes, BGA Chairman)

Town twinning partnerships were developed in order to foster friendship and understanding between the UK and Germany following the Second World War. A key aspect of town twinning was the people-to-people links and exchanges between British and German towns. Numerous town twinning partnerships, such as Dortmund-Leeds, remain active today.

Where town twinning partnerships are supported by local authorities, there is scope for the respective twin towns to collaborate with one another in particular policy areas and exchange best practices. This in some cases includes mayoral visits and exchange visits for officers. Numerous town twinning associations exist around the UK; these promote civic links between the twin towns and organise events and reciprocal visits. Links between schools of twinned towns still exist, with exchanges taking place on a yearly or biennial basis.

How does the BGA support German British town twinnings? (Answered by Peter Barnes, BGA Chairman)

We recently trialled a project to support town twinning within regions. This entailed the appointment of voluntary BGA regional representatives in Kent and Surrey, who work to support town twinning associations within their respective regions. As an example, the BGA regional representatives organise conferences for town twinning associations within the regions. Following the success of these trials, we are now looking to expand this work by recruiting voluntary BGA regional representatives to support town twinning across other regions in the UK.

The BGA also works with Councils and Combined Authorities [Anmerkung der Redaktion: eine Combined Authority ist eine Art regionale Behörde, die Zuständigkeiten von Städten und ihren Umlandsgemeinden bündelt]. Most recently, the BGA supported the development of a strategic partnership between Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Regionalverband Ruhr.

Barbara Ford, BGA Regional Representative, on her work in Surrey: “As not only BGA regional representative but also Chair of a town twinning association myself I offer mutual support to other town twinning associations in my (Surrey) region which have German twins. I do this mainly through meetings – nowadays online – where problems can be shared and possible solutions, which might involve using the support of the BGA, can be discussed, and where the purpose and benefit of twinning (international friendship and understanding) can be reaffirmed. I help the BGA to communicate with these individual associations, and of course vice versa.”

School partnerships and youth participation are a crucial aspect of the German-British friendship, in particular for the next generations. What are the current challenges in this field? (Answered by Paul Stocker, Head of Youthbridge, a charitable endeavour of the BGA)

There are currently four key challenges in these fields:

1) DBS checks [eine Art polizeiliches Führungszeugnis, Anmerkung der Redaktion] / safeguarding issues / fear of litigation:  UK schools are often concerned that other countries have no legally enforceable requirement at this level for ensuring that unsuitable people do not work with vulnerable groups such as children; in the UK, that includes checks on host families on exchanges. Such checks are free but have to be made in the UK. There is also a fear, especially among senior managers, of litigation „if something goes wrong.“ While such issues do occur, they are extremely rare, and most are linked to adventurous activities such as skiing. But while study visits, where pupils stay together in a group, are seen as relatively safe, exchanges, where pupils stay with families, are much less so – so the hesitation persists.

 2) Small numbers: Relatively few pupils in the UK study modern languages to GCSE or A level [Anmerkung der Redaktion: Das General Certificate of Secondary Education entspricht etwa dem deutschen mittleren Schulabschluss, das Advanced Level, meist abgekürzt als A-level, ist dem deutschen Abitur vergleichbar.]. German, as a second language (most study French or Spanish as their first), often finds that there are not enough pupils in a year-group to be able to organise an exchange, however enthusiastic the teacher. The idea of a whole class or year-group taking part in an exchange is unknown in the UK, as such visits are always voluntary.

3) Pressure on timetable and league tables: Every year, UK schools are ranked both nationally and locally in order of their exam results (the so-called „league table“). Head teachers and other senior managers are therefore often concerned about pupils taking any time out of school for visits and exchanges. In our view, they fail to see the many advantages – not only in terms of language-learning, but also of character development – which family-to-family exchanges bring.

4) Concerns about travel requirements: There are currently a number of misunderstandings and uncertainty about travel requirements – quite apart from issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we suspect that these will be temporary.

Paul Stocker, Head of Youthbridge

And how does the BGA respond to these challenges, what are your solutions and ideas? (Answered by Paul Stocker, Head of Youthbridge)

a. We have put together three information documents on exchanges that will be shared with UK schools this term:

  1. Why?: pointing out the immense value of exchanges, not only in terms of language learning, but also of character development, as mentioned above
  2. How?: the practicalities of organising an exchange, including advice on legal aspects
  3. „Virtual“ exchanges: how to develop virtual links and exchanges between pupils in the UK and Germany

b. Working with other organisations in this field, especially UK-German Connection and the British Council

c. Working with the Foreign Office and other government bodies to emphasise the importance of school exchanges, and to make them simpler to organise.  

d. In the future: linking interested schools in a given city or area to form a group that is large enough to make an exchange viable and economical; such links may also be formed in some areas by town twinning associations.

Das Interview führte Beate Brockmann


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