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New meaning to distance learning

More and more teachers are taking a break from their classroom to learn about education abroad, writes Raymond Ross

Do you or your staff feel like a break? Want to work in a different country for a while? More teachers are taking up the opportunity for international visits and exchanges as increased funding becomes available and visits can tie in with professional development.

Although exact figures are not available, the increase in uptake is very much teacher-led, says a Scottish Executive spokeswoman.

"It's teachers who have come back from abroad enthused by their experiences who are spreading the word and developing the international education ethos," she says.

The multiplicity of funded programmes ranges from the East-West Schools Programme linking schools in Britain and Ireland, to the Fulbright Teacher Exchange with the United States, to the many European Union Socrates-Comenius curriculum projects and the Department for International Development's Global Schools Programme.

The first port of call for any interested teacher should be the green book, International Opportunities within Scottish Education and Training 2004-2005, published by the Scottish Executive last month and sent to every school. This lists all the programmes available and contact details of every local authority's international co-ordinator.

This month's issue of the General Teaching Council for Scotland's publication Teaching Scotland also lists programmes and contacts and features articles by Comenius assistants telling of their experiences.

"International education is clearly linked to the four priority areas outlined in A Partnership for a Better Scotland (2003): growing the economy, delivering excellent public services, supporting stronger, safer communities and developing a confident, democratic Scotland," says the spokeswoman.

"A target for a study visit could be anything from one of the national priorities to healthy eating or citizenship. We have had a special needs school in Scotland partnered with one in Poland working on mobility and dance, and another Scottish school partnered with a Czech one exploring ideas to make both schools more inclusive," she says.

"International education is one of our key aims," says GTC communications officer Glenise Borthwick. "Every school should be an international school, with international education embedded within and across the curriculum.

"It's about taking Scotland out to the world and bringing the world to Scotland.

"International education is so much more than the old-fashioned school exchanges. It enriches the curriculum, the school day and CPD. It should be approached as a cross-curricular activity. How, for example, can you teach tolerance and multi-culturalism if you don't embed it in the whole curriculum?"

In October, the GTC will publish details of funds for teachers to go and research abroad, she says.

As a general rule, visits and exchanges have to be focused to bring benefits to teaching and learning in Scotland. All applications are judged against the particular school's development plan as well as the local authority's. Teachers are expected to prepare a report on their visit and how it impacts on their school and classroom practice, and they should be prepared to lead professional development sessions for their colleagues to share good practice.

Exchange opportunities The British Council's world links team offers advice and travel grants and handles the official paperwork for study visits and joint projects.

Teacher Exchange Europe is open to modern language teachers who wish to exchange posts with colleagues in France, Germany or Spain for six weeks, one term or an academic year. Benefits include an opportunity to refresh language skills and cultural knowledge, develop school links and exchanges, gather resources and exchange materials. You retain your UK salary while abroad.

The East-West Schools Programme was set up to strengthen links between Ireland and Britain. It offers seminars for finding partners; grants for preparatory visits enabling partnership teachers to meet and plan projects; funding for projects, including field trips for pupils; and two-week exchanges for teachers.

For details of both initiatives see www.britishcouncil.orgscotland-learning-school-partnerships

The League for the Exchange of Commonwealth Teachers arranges study visits on specified themes, job-shadowing programmes and exchange opportunities in Commonwealth countries primarily. They may be short term or last a calendar or academic year.

The Fulbright Teacher and Administrator Exchange scheme offers the opportunity for exposure to the education system in the United States.

Participants work in all levels, from kindergarten to further education, and in all subject areas. Many undertake their partner's duties exactly. In other cases more flexible arrangements are made. There is now greater flexibility for short-term exchanges and headteacher work-shadowing.

Fulbright Teacher Exchange, Education and Training Group, British Council, 7 Fountain Street, Belfast BT1 5EG

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