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Finding partners in other countries

It may be too good an opportunity to miss; after all, why should language departments have all the fun?

A new programme to develop cross-curricular projects involving schools in three or more European countries wants more British participants. Schools can claim up to 75 per cent funding from the European Commission towards the cost of setting up and taking part.

Unlike traditional twinning initiatives, Comenius Action One - part of the European Union's Socrates programme - aims to increase communication between pupils and teachers in all subjects and does not rely on foreign language skills.

Last year only 48 primary, secondary and special schools in Britain took on the role of lead organisers, about a quarter of the total number sought.

Among the first to join was Dearne high school in Thurnscoe, near Rotherham. It used existing links with schools in France and Finland for a technology project based on rail travel.

Headteacher Jean Rodgers' enthusiasm borders on the evangelical. "I have gained a lot from it personally and my school has as well.

"We serve a depressed area and it is important for the pride of the school. It restores the youngsters' self-esteem. For the teachers, it gives them an opportunity they don't normally get unless they are modern language teachers. "

But she adds: "It is a problem to encourage English schools to take up the challenge."

To spread the good news, she has produced a leaflet for the Secondary Heads Association setting out a seven-step guide to joining Comenius Action One. She stresses the importance of choosing a project that is flexible enough to interest teachers and pupils in other countries. Successful examples include comparisons of weather patterns and studies of environmental issues.

To succeed, a project also depends on enthusiastic staff, including a willingness to travel, and good organisation. Modern communications, such as fax and e-mail, are also important.

Partnerships involving schools on the geographical extremes of the EU Q Finland, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland - are particularly favoured for funding. And many of these countries speak good English.

Jean Rodgers suggests forming groups of four schools, in case one drops out. Partners can be found via town twinnings, personal contacts, or by applying to the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges.

Funding includes money for teacher visits to each of the participating schools, study trips by heads and deputies, and teacher exchanges of up to four weeks.

Lead schools can claim up to Pounds 8,000 over three years towards the cost of co-ordinating the project, or Pounds 12,500 if the school is classed as geographically isolated or socially disadvantaged. Pupil travel and staff cover are not eligible for grants.

The next deadline for applications is November 1. For more information, contact the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges, 10 Spring Gardens, London SW1A 2BN.

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