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Language learning evolution

Charles Darwin school is one of 48 chosen to help bridge education's great divide. Chris Johnston reports

WOULD pupils' apathy towards learning modern languages disappear if a class could see and hear a gendarme from Toulouse - and then ask him questions - without leaving the school?

Recent research suggests pupils do not enjoy learning French and German, but teachers at Charles Darwin school on the edge of London hope to change that when a project using information and communications technology for language teaching gets under way.

The scheme is one of 48 announced last week by Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, which aims to break down traditional barriers between independent and state schools. The Sutton Trust, which wants to improve educational opportunities, is contributing pound;250,000 of the total pound;600,000 funding.

Charles Darwin, a large grant-maintained comprehensive in the borough of Bromley, will work with Combe Bank and Babington House independent schools to boost standards in modern languages. The project has been awarded pound;12,500 of the pound;600,000, which will be used to buy computers and to set up video-conferencing links between the schools.

Craig Channell, the assistant head, said independent schools were keen to get involved. They had long had close links with schools in Europe, while Charles Darwin has extensive information technology infrastructure and expertise. He added that conventional video-conferencing links using high-quality but relatively expensive high-speed ISDN phone lines will be used for classroom teaching, which might involve guest speakers such as police officers from European countries. Software that uses the Internet for the cost of a local call will allow pupils to chat with European counterparts.

Regular inter-school debates on social, economic and cultural issues are planned. Language clinics will help pupils with homework. Headteacher Rob Higgins said: "We're breaking down barriers, not just between nations but in this country as well. I hope that by doing things like this the stateindependent divide will eventually become redundant."

The three schools hope that the project will increase motivation for modern foreign language pupils and boost exam results.

Stephen Byers said the 48 schemes being funded would enhance educational opportunities for more than 11,000 pupils and help to raise standards. "Old divisions have to be put to one side if we are serious about learning from what works well. Independent and state schools have much to learn from each other," he said.

The minister also published the interim report of the Advisory Group on IndependentState School Partnerships last week. The group - with its long-term aim of promoting a culture change - will make detailed recommendations by the end of July.

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