During the UK presidency of the European Union, schools around the country are being encouraged to set up themed weeks to let pupils broaden their horizons. Eleanor Caldwell visited Alva Academy to discover what is going on
Crepes, French bread, cheese and Italian ice-cream - not quite what you'd expect at morning interval in the assembly hall. But these and other international goodies were on offer every day at Alva Academy in Clackmannshire during the school's annual European Week (March 2-6).
For rector Ian Lamont, the European Week, introduced last year, is a new way of "encouraging pupils to look beyond the Hillfoots, the Central Belt and Scotland, and to open their minds to other European cultures".
Working on two levels, the week aims to bring Europe into the school, both in the form of fun activities and within the curriculum, where all departments are encouraged to adopt a European slant to their teaching.
A committee of 10 "really enthusiastic" teachers from different departments, headed by assistant rector Stuart Rycroft, planned the week of activities with a launch on Monday followed by a different theme every day: Mediterranean, GermanBenelux, Scandinavian and French, each one organised by two teachers and a team of pupil helpers from Secondary 2 to 4.
The centrepiece of each day was the assembly hall where, during an extended interval and to a background of appropriate music from the school orchestra, pupils could buy food and enter competitions using the currency of the day. Currency was provided at a pupil-manned "bureau de change" with exchange rates and "money" prepared in S2 maths classes. Pupils were also able to exchange from one currency to another as the week progressed.
Food was bought on a daily basis by Stuart Rycroft and prepared by the cookery staff with a team of pupil volunteers. Home economics teacher and European Week committee member Hilary Campbell "liked the French day best, because the bread and cheeses were nice and easy to prepare". A poor response from local businesses last year meant that food was bought at an Edinburgh supermarket.
Rycroft had better luck this year and, in addition to the Edinburgh purchases, the local Tescos provided demonstrations of international cookery. School dinners even adopted the nationality of the day with moussaka and flan de Naranja on the Mediterranean menu, and staff were treated to an after-school European buffet prepared by a local delicatessen.
Competitions ranged from Lego construction to the identification of national anthems on the school tannoy system and the design of a "Euro costume".
A variety of visitors to the school included local MEP Alex Falconer and representatives from the Italian and Spanish consulates and the Goethe Institute, in addition to a local Austrian restaurateur and a number of European parents. Visitors were interviewed by a team of S3 reporters, under the guidance of English teacher Betty McGuinness. Interviews were recorded, written up after school and displayed daily, together with their own press photographs, in the library.
St Johnstone footballers of Austrian and Croatian origin, Attila Sekerlioglu and Nick Dasovic, attracted an enthusiastic pupil audience.
Rector Ian Lamont said "there were no prizes for guessing the most popular type of question put to them: 'What's it like playing against Rangers?' " and stressed that pupils had appreciated the opportunity of meeting real European footballers.
Luigi Bottaro, an education officer at the Italian consulate, said he enjoyed being involved in the project and, in addition to helping with the development of a self-taught Italian module currently running in the school, has offered to give Italian cookery demonstrations himself in the future.
The European slant was included in most departments' teaching. In many cases, it dovetailed with topics already being taught, such as European history and politics. But home economics benefited from the practical spin-off of preparing food - an offer from Tescos' management to provide information on careers in retail management was an unexpected bonus. Business studies classes looked at international faxing and aspects of European import and export, and the maths department became the financial power base for the week. In technology, first year pupils put their trowel production to one side and created a large wooden jigsaw map of Europe.
"Casa del S'porto" transformed the learning support department into a Spanish cafe with a "really nice relaxed atmosphere", where teachers served as waiters and pupils enjoyed alcohol-free sangria.
Modern languages were given a "new focus" at a time when the post-16 up-take is in the doldrums. Principal teacher Andrew Brown said pupils were seeing French and German "come to life" in the school and being more positive in class.
The physical education department was responsible for a Jeux sans Fronti res competition on the last day. School house teams of pupils from S1 to S6 adopted European nationalities and fought hard for points in a variety of vigorous team games.
The library was transformed into a "nice social area" with reporters compiling articles and pupils viewing videos of the week's events.
Head janitor Peter Boyle said that despite the daily Euro village in the assembly hall, neither he nor the cleaners had much extra work because the pupils and staff did most of the setting up and clearing away.
At the end of the week Stuart Rycroft was "a bit frazzled" but very pleased that the second year of his Euro-brainchild had been so successful.
Both he and Lamont saw the European week as "a means of widening the horizons of all 1,200 pupils at Alva Academy, of offering more than just a strait-jacket curriculum and of altering and improving the whole ethos of the school".