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Hospitality rules the waves

The popularity of Spanish package holidays and Spanish football has been harnessed by one local authority to produce outstanding Higher results.

North Lanakshire Council decided to concentrate on boosting the popularity of the language because pupils had holidayed in Spain and had an interest in the country.

Close links were set up with schools in Mallorca in 2003 which, four years later, are helping produce an impressive number of A grades.

This year, the figure doubled to 45, from 21 last year, with passes up to 76 from 62 in 2006 (from 93 candidates).

"Traditionally modern languages do very poorly in Scotland," said Christine Pollock, the council's executive director for learning and leisure services. "That led to us exploring Spanish, where there is a lot more motivation there is La Liga (the national football league) and pupils go on holiday there."

Crucial to building on that initial interest is the timing of a visit made by Higher Spanish students in September each year to Mallorca, where they learn the language on an intensive course, spend time at their school's partner school, and socialise with Spanish pupils (who themselves come to spend a week in Scotland each February).

Mrs Pollock believes the enthusiasm for the language developed during the September week has a clear impact on exam results at the seven schools involved. "It really kicks things off, and I think that's what the results are telling us," she said. "The pupils are saying that their experiences in Mallorca make the language real."

Such is the confidence of pupils that some have been interviewed live on Mallorcan television. Others showed their progress by making a presen-tation to North Lanarkshire councillors in Spanish after which a translation was done for those local members not conversant in the language.

Some of North Lanarkshire's Spanish teachers have also benefited from spending time in Mallorca, having travelled to the island in 2005 for continuing professional development that enabled them to brush up on their own Spanish.

They found this particularly useful as they were able to catch up with developments in the language and practise more informal speech than that often encountered in their university studies.

The authority's commitment to Spanish is continuing to grow.

A total of 11 pupils out of 15 at St Margaret's High, in Airdrie, passed Higher Spanish with an A this year, but their successors in years to come are likely to be even better prepared, as pupils in four associated primaries are now learning the language from as young as three.

The primary pupils also benefit from direct conversation with peers in Mallorca, by means of webcam links.

The authority is meanwhile establishing links with Mallorca to benefit its many young musicians the island, like Scotland, has distinct and proud musical traditions that it is keen to share with North Lanarkshire.

Work is also ongoing to build a relationship between Bellshill's Cardinal Newman High, which as one of Scotland's Schools of Ambition has a special focus on hospitality, and Juniper Serra High, in Mallorca, which also specialises in hospitality.

North Lanarkshire Council is looking at how to increase the popularity of French with similar links to schools abroad.

Photograph: Alamy

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