Course funds harder to secure

In recent years, thousands of Scottish primary school teachers have benefited from European Union funding for its Socrates programme, which has allowed them to travel abroad for in-service training in foreign language teaching. This year, however, changes in European Commission rules have made it difficult for local authorities to take advantage of the funding.

John Muir, an adviser in primary education in Highland, says: "It was disappointing when they changed the rules. Previously, it was possible for the local authority to send in one application form for 10 or 20 teachers to go abroad in their own holiday period. Now each teacher has to apply individually and pay nearly pound;1,000 out of their own pocket, which would not be refunded for up to six months."

The British Council denies this, saying that grants are available from them, "usually 80 per cent in advance and 20 per cent on receipt of reports after their return".

But Highland has decided the new rules are too complicated and has looked at other ways of providing primary teachers with language opportunities. Mr Muir says: "There is no substitute for being in the country whose language you're learning. There is no easy solution."

Joe Wake, the international education adviser at the British Council in Edinburgh, says: "There has been a downturn in applications right across Europe." He believes it is partly due to the off-putting catalogue of courses on the EC website.

The Commission's rule states that teachers from at least three different countries must attend any one course, though the British Council says this is not implemented and cannot be monitored.

"We were sending a lot of teachers from Scotland and it became too obvious," says Mr Wake.

He suggests that BEd students should incorporate time abroad into their training, taking advantage of the fact that countries such as France and Germany are desperately short of native English-speaking teachers for their primary schools.

"We could lift the entire cohort from the Scottish colleges and give them places paid for by the French, German or Austrian government," says Mr Wake. "At that stage of their careers they are going to make friends and contacts and develop lasting ways to support their language development in the future."

Despite several approaches, the colleges are resistant to the idea, says Mr Wake. "They have such a crowded curriculum and no one wants to see the time lost." However, he remains hopeful.

Teachers interested in grants for in-service training opportunities abroad should contact Alison Sheridan at the British Council, tel 0131 524 5700www.socrates-uk.net

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