Twenty Highland primary teachers who travelled to France on Sunday to brush up their language skills could be among the last to do so if the European Union presses ahead with changes in the rules governing such trips.
Under the EU's Socrates programme, which has funded projects intended to enhance European co-operation in education, hundreds of Scottish teachers have received Lingua funding of up to pound;1,100 to allow them to travel abroad, individually or in groups, to update or improve their foreign language skills. Some 80 to 100 Scottish teachers benefit a year.
But with the introduction of Socrates 2, which is planned for the end of the year, the money for tailor-made courses is likely to be withdrawn. It will be replaced by funding for more European-oriented, rather than specifically linguistic, courses drawn from an approved list.
A vigorous protest has been lodged by the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges in Edinburgh which believes the plans threaten a "disaster" for language teaching. The bureau has alerted language advisers who are said to be "horrified".
"The EU wants there to be a European dimension to the teachers' activities, not just a language course," Judith Cantley of the Central Bureau says. "They are stipulating that it must be a multicultural group, with teachers from various countries learning together."
But the Scottish Office says the new Socrates programe, which will last for seven years, continues the development of European awareness and is intended to promote interaction between different countries not groups from the same country. The plan has the approval of all member governments, a spokesman said.
The bureau, however, believes the attraction of taking single-nation groups abroad is strong. Courses can be geared specifically to the linguistic standards of the group, and can take account of the particular environment in which the foreign language will be taught back home.
Due to delays in introducing Socrates 2, existing Lingua funding is likely to be available until the end of 2000, but the bureau is gearing up for a campaign. "We think the tailor-made course is very valuable," Ms Cantley says.
Joe Wake, the bureau's Scottish chief, adds that producing a catalogue of courses will not be specific enough to satisfy needs.
Chris Rolfe, Dundee's adviser for 10-18 education, said the existing course is extremely valuable for primary teachers who have been through the modern languages training programme and are keen to build up their confidence and competence.
"The kind of course being proposed is what Brussels believes in-service should be. But staff development is about more than just attending a course, and listening to someone spouting off in a lecture theatre.
"For language teachers in particular, they need to have total immersion in the language and live in the country concerned."
A group of five Dundee primary teachers will spend a fortnight in Spain in September. They will live with local families and work with Spanish colleagues in different schools.
Caledonia Languages Abroad, which has been organising Lingua-funded courses abroad for three years, hopes the new Socrates programme will be equally practical. Kath Bateman, its spokesman, says there has been positive feedback from teachers. "Language is not static, and the current programme gives teachers an opportunity not only to upgrade their language skills, but to discuss methodology and materials. It has no parallel."