Just how do schools come to grips with our mainland neighbours? Gerald Haigh explores some avenues.
Many schools have seized eagerly on the chance to make friendly contact with their counterparts in mainland Europe. Experience shows, though, that if these are going to be more than short-term and superficial, they need a strong rationale and plenty of support.
Joan Garrod, head of the sixth form at Lowestoft's Kirkley High School, where there are numerous European projects, believes that some links fail "because people have a burst of initial enthusiasm they say, 'let's have a link with Europe', and then they are not sure what they are going to do with it."
It is little use, for example, starting something that depends heavily on exchange visits, because the majority of staff and pupils will never be able to take part. The most promising developments, therefore, involve the partner schools in working on joint, or complementary curriculum-based projects, exchanging information and finished work.
Among the most accessible and pupil-friendly vehicles for this kind of European contact is the the European Communities Project. Supported by the European Commission and a group of prestigious industrial sponsors, the project puts schools across Europe in touch with each other and asks each partner to produce either a video or audio report on its own local community.
Support comes in a number of forms a project pack of materials, technical advice, links with the BBC and the EMAP group of local newspapers (both are sponsors) and some travel bursaries for outstanding students. Canon UK, another major sponsor, will be providing an award for the outstanding video. Director John Aldridge explains that "the project uses technology (fax, phone and e-mail) and develops communication skills (writing, video, audio, fine art). And schools are offered professional expertise to raise the skill levels in these areas."
At Henry Gotch School in Kettering, one of the participating schools, European awareness is already very much a part of life. Albanian pupils have visited the school and done work experience in local firms for example, and there has also been a work experience exchange of 22 pupils with a Danish school. Head Lawrie Crabb points out that "within the lifetime of the children here, Europe will be a great influence on who they are, where they are and where they work. The stereotype of the Brit has got to be undone a bit."
There are also, he believes, good close-to-home reasons for teaching about Europe. "How else can they understand current political ideas? How on earth can they vote in a referendum?" The European Communities Project at Henry Gotch takes the form of a partnership at sixth-form level with an Italian school ITC Guiseppe Peano, in Florence. The group making the video, which will look entertainingly, but with serious analysis, at the lives of young people in Kettering, is drawn from a range of curriculum areas including business studies and arts subjects. All of them are keen on the European dimension of the work, and plainly believe that their chosen career paths (mainly in the media) may easily lead them into other countries. Sixth former David Phillips believes that "it opens up a whole lot of new opportunities", and Kerry Bobbett, too, was aware of "the possibility of jobs abroad".
Another school with a stake in the European Communities Project is the Maria Wachtler Schule in Essen, Germany, where teacher Dimo Richke is very enthusiastic about the link he has made with Wallington High School for Girls in Surrey.
"There was a European Summit here in Essen," she says, "and I thought it would be a good idea for our students to write about it and then exchange views with the Wallington students."
What followed, explains Cathi Allison, the teacher running the project at the Wallington end was "quite fascinating, because what they saw was the summit's intrusion on their lives heavy police presence and so on. Then our students on the European Studies A-level course were able to provide information about the issues being discussed at the summit".
At Wallington, too, progress is being made towards the final video which, according to Cathi Allison, "will be in three versions with voice-overs in English, Spanish and German". And, as the school is also linked with one in Cork, one of the students is researching the possibility of adding the Irish language.
How, though, does it all relate to the future European Britain so clearly articulated by Lawrie Crabb? Part of the answer lies in the ideas that the Wallington girls are beginning to perceive and will try to say in their forthcoming project video.
It will show, says Cathi Allison, "that our community in Wallington is made up of contrasts ethnic groups, age groups, rich and poor, working and unemployed. Wallington is a heterogeneous community. The positive view is that if we can make it work at this level, we can do it at the larger level of Europe".
The European Communities Project was piloted in Suffolk in 1993-94 by 16 schools in partnership with another 16 in Europe. The second phase, in the current school year, includes about 100 schools across Europe in both bi-lateral and multilateral partnerships. At the end of this phase, some of the video work will be screened by BBC 2.
Phase 3, in 1995-96, will be open to all schools wishing to apply. Anyone interested should contact the European Communities Project, Warren Cottage, Warren Lane, Woolpit, Bury St Edmunds IP30 9RT.
There are numerous other vehicles for European contact. Those used by the schools visited include: CLEMI. Probably one of the most accessible ways into Europe for schools, the Centre de Liaison de l'Enseignement et des Moyens d'Information produces a Europe-wide fax newspaper, based in France, which provides a platform for school pupils to share information and views. Information from CLEMI, 391 Rue de Beaugirard, 75015 Paris
Science Across Europe is a set of short science work units, published by the Association for Science Education in 12 languages and designed to fit into any national science programme. Schools make partnerships and then address the agreed topics - acid rain perhaps, or energy use - in their respective localities, going on to make comparisons. Nearly 500 schools Europe-wide have so far taken part. ASE, College Lane, Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL10 9AA
Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges, now approaching its 50th year, provides advice and help on virtually every aspect of work with other countries, including teacher and student exchanges, school travel, planning preliminary visits, and setting up work experience. The bureau has three contact addresses: Seymour Mews, London W1H 9PE; 3 Bruntsfield Crescent, Edinburgh EH10 4HD; and 1 Chlorine Gardens, Belfast BT9 5DJ Two teachers, particularly, have offered to give advice, trusting that colleagues will approach them with sensitivity to the pressures on their time. Christine Blowman, head of business studies at Henry Gotch, has considerable experience of organising work experience abroad: Henry Gotch School, Deeble Road, Kettering NN15 7AA. Joan Garrod at Kirkley is a mine of information about European partnerships generally: Kirkley High School, Kirkley Run, Lowestoft NR33 0UQ