International links are worthwhile and easy to forge, if you know where to begin, reports Douglas Blane.
A small school in the east end of Glasgow has discovered how to enthuse teachers, involve parents and motivate children. One of the children was so motivated he was turning cartwheels.
The place is St Timothy's primary school, where an exhibition of international activities in Glasgow schools was held last term. The cartwheels were spectacularly performed by Joseph Carlin in a green dress and long blonde wig, to the accompaniment of his classmates singing the old Irish folk song Come Down the Mountains Katy Daley.
"Follow that," invited the compere, but the chief executive of Glasgow city council, James Andrews, declined.
Glasgow is now regarded as one of the leading local authorities in the UK in developing staff and young people through international links and activities, says Mr Andrews. The exhibition featured work in a dozen primary and secondary schools and showed the wide range of international activities that take place - from visits, to European Union-funded partnerships and exchanges of material and resources.
Last year 1,800 pupils and 300 teachers from Glasgow schools visited 17 countries, with help from the city's international office.
St Timothy's primary has forged links with schools in Ireland, France, Finland, Sweden and Spain. The headteacher, Laura McLean, says: "Overseas contacts are important, because you have to equip the children to live and work abroad. That's one aspect, but for me the big thing is motivation.
"Children who won't put pen to paper as an exercise really enjoy writing to their French or Finnish friends. Our pupils are learning Spanish, and they love getting the chance to use the language in letters and visits. At this age they're not in the least inhibited.
"But with a bit of thought you can bring an international slant to mathematics, geography, history, technology, everything. Our links began with Europe but recently we've had an enquiry from a Russian school, and some of the children are exchanging e-mails with a school in Australia."
St Timothy's has a website under development with its partner schools in the EU and it produces a regular newsletter containing a page from each school. All the teachers are committed to the school's international links.
At other schools, such as Garrowhill primary, headteacher Margaret Wingate says: "We wanted to have our children gain an understanding of different cultures and peoples. We wanted to foster the idea that we should celebrate difference instead of being suspicious of it. We've introduced international aspects into every subject we teach - in primary schools we don't have time for add-ons."
Edna Paterson is the international officer at Glasgow city council's education department. Her role is to motivate and encourage the schools, support them in their international projects and provide help and advice on funding. She says: "There is a lot of money out there, in the Comenius part of the Socrates programme for example, and I can explain to the schools how to access it.
"I've worked in education in Glasgow for over 25 years and in that time the city has changed beyond all recognition. Nowadays we have thousands ofvisitors - last term we had more than 100 education professionals from abroad in one week, here to observe the good practice in our schools. Our first exhibition was based at St Timothy's, because they're a great example of an international school - they've won a stack of awards.
"International education changes young people's lives for the better. They're our future citizens, and our job is to encourage them to be open-minded and outward-looking.
"At one time a lot of children from big city housing estates never ventured outside their own territory. Now we have them travelling the world."
There are 320,000 schools in the EU, in which 69 million pupils are taught by 4 million teachers. For information and advice on how Scottish schools can forge educational links with some of them, contact Edna Paterson, tel 0141 337 3214.
The Comenius programme provides funding for joint projects involving schools from different EU countries and training for teachers to develop a European dimension in their teaching.More information is on the webpage: