Notes from a small island

8th July 2005 at 01:00
Daunted by the cost of global links? Under-11s can benefit hugely from activities as cheap as emailing pupils abroad, says Peter Greaves

When Sally left my class to go to New Zealand, we were all gutted. On departure though, Sally gave us a very important gift without even knowing it - an international link.

Overall, primary schools lag behind our secondary colleagues in bringing international purpose to our everyday work. There are some remarkable exceptions, but on the whole, programmes such as Comenius - the schools'

section of the EU's Socrates scheme, which supports European partnerships - have been taken up more by those with older pupils.

There are some obvious reasons for this. Not all primaries have had the technology to make reliable links with schools abroad. It was only two years ago that an email project with a school just on the other side of our city collapsed, because our servers were never working at the same time.

There has also not been much funding to support primary links. It is complicated to apply and you may need some insider guidance. There is still no money to subsidise exchange visits abroad for pupils below Year 7 and little funding for supply staff to cover for teachers who go overseas, limiting the opportunities for staff. The British Council is working to improve the opportunities for primary schools and flexible funding streams are increasingly available. (Visit www.globalgateway.org.uk for more information.) However, probably the biggest barrier is the way we organise our timetables. We use phrases such as "put the curriculum on hold" or "drop normal lessons for the day" to focus on international and global issues.

What we would like to do, and know we should do, is weave these into our everyday teaching.

So when a bunch of Sally's classmates went on a residential trip, they wanted to tell her all about it. She emailed back questions about the trip and gave details of a school outing of her own and the conversation continued. Sally was still regarded as a member of our class, just one who couldn't be in our classroom every day.

This demonstrates how international links can work. They can give us international members of our classes who can be an audience for our activities.

At the same time, they can teach us about their everyday lives and their parallel experiences. This simple dialogue can smash the stereotypes created by historical events and those days that shake the world.

Dunkirk primary school in Nottingham has developed excellent international links, recognised by the International Schools Award it received last year.

Asima Qureshi, the deputy head, says linking with a school in Pakistan has transformed children's thinking. She was concerned at the under-achievement of pupils from a Pakistani background and the low self-esteem that underpinned it.

By joining the everyday experiences of their school with those of a school in Pakistan, the whole image of that country has been changed: "Our link school is where all our kids want to go. If they were going to live in another country, they would choose to live in Pakistan."

Bringing new understanding to international labels has led pupils to feel proud of their backgrounds.

"When I first walked in wearing cultural dress," Asima says, "they were embarrassed. Now they are wearing it themselves."

Of course links do not just help help self-esteem in multicultural schools, they can also provide a contrast and enrichment for monocultural ones. They help pupils in such schools to prepare for living in a diverse society.

The British Council has a list of schools around the world waiting for a partner.

Sally comes home at Christmas and will bring a wealth of international knowledge with her. I hope there will be even more waiting for her in the classroom.

Peter Greaves is deputy head of Dovelands primary school in Leicester. He is undertaking research with the National College for School Leadership into leadership of the global curriculum in primary schools.

Make the Link awards entry details, page 16

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