A world of difference with one catalyst

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Gloucestershire's international office has opened global horizons for pupils and staff. Martin Whittaker reports.

Schools are now urged to broaden pupils' horizons and build partnerships abroad - or, as former education secretary Charles Clarke phrased it in his international strategy for schools, to put "the world into world-class education".

But who will help them do it? In rural Gloucestershire schools get a good head start thanks to the work of the education authority's International Education Office (IEO).

Since it was set up 16 years ago, its handful of staff have helped schools to build links across the world, developed international dimensions in the curriculum and supported international development for teachers.

Its effectiveness is shown in the international ethos in so many of the county's schools. Most now have partner schools abroad. In the past 12 months more than 230 Gloucestershire teachers went abroad on funded professional development placements.

Around 80 of the county's schools have been involved in Comenius projects (European Co-operation on School Education), which are EU-funded and link three or more European schools, and 16 have won the International School Award.

The IEO does not look like much. It occupies a huddle of first-storey rooms at a teachers' training centre next to the M5 on the outskirts of Gloucester.

But staff are widely respected among teachers in the county and beyond. A spokesman for the British Council said: "If you're looking to set up an international office, Gloucestershire's would be the one to follow."

Its driving force is the county's international education officer, Penny Krucker, a former deputy head seconded by the education authority to launch the service in 1989. Initially her brief was to improve school links in Europe in the run-up to the single European market.

"It came out of the blue. It was a fantastic opportunity and I've been here ever since," she says.

Through hosting conferences for teachers from all EU states, the office built contacts abroad and began helping schools to access European funding for international projects. From the mid-Nineties it went global, changing its name and remit from European to International.

Schools, says Ms Krucker, are "transformed" by such work. "They think globally - they're not narrow and parochial, and teachers have the world in their classroom."

Typical work for the team might be helping schools tap into a Comenius project, advice on funding or information on African-Caribbean culture. Its office also has shelves groaning with resource packs for teachers.

One of its major tasks has been to work on a Department for Education and Skills project to help schools make international links by promoting video-conferencing in the classroom, using the Global Leap website (see www.global.leap.com).

It has helped Chosen Hill school, a comprehensive in Churchdown near Gloucester, to build links with schools in New York. A-level students have taken part in a history project, discussing the founding fathers and the birth of the American constitution, while staff have used video-conferencing for professional development sessions with US colleagues.

The school has also led Comenius projects involving countries including Romania, Hungary, Finland and Poland.

Ken Joshua, the school's international co-ordinator, praises the work of Ms Krucker and her team: "She's a catalyst, certainly an initiator, and she's got a good team with her.

"Without a doubt, if she hadn't been there, this school would not have accomplished so much."

Another branch of the office's work is to raise awareness of ethnic-minority cultures in mainly white rural areas.

Daxa Mehta, who deals with the office's finances, also holds workshops in schools. She talks about her Indian culture and religions, language and music, shows the children traditional clothing and helps them to make chapattis and taste curry.

"Some children here think all children in India are poor and don't have computers... So it's nice for them to compare the similarities as well as the differences."

The office also helps primary schools develop modern languages, organises meetings, workshops and conferences for teachers and students, manages incoming and overseas visits, and promotes international opportunities for teachers.Every school in the county receives a general newsletter, factsheets about projects and news items about professional development.

Then there is its national work. As well as the video-conferencing project, Ms Krucker and her team work with the Specialist Schools Trust to support language colleges. But as more schools seek help from outside the county, they find themselves stretched.

The British Council says the precise figure of education authorities with international offices is hard to gauge. It estimates that more than 100 LEAs pursue an international dimension with their schools.

Ms Krucker says her background as a business studies teacher has helped, both in terms of pulling in funding and in the way she deals with schools.

She says the appeal of this model is that the only cost to the county council is her salary, though she emphasises it has huge support from the LEA.

The office gets the remainderof its income from a variety of sources, including the British Council, DfES and EC funding, and by selling its expertise to other education authorities and schools.

Ms Krucker points to the lack of funding from the Government to back its goal for schools to develop global perspectives. "It has never put an international allocation into school budgets, like it has for literacy and numeracy," she says. "It should put something into the Standards Fund to help LEAs and schools develop international links.

"It's clear that you need one person in every LEA to do that. And it will happen."

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