It began with a political agreement, but education is forging new Anglo-French relationships. Emily Clark reports
Differences in culture which historically exacerbated conflict with France are forming the basis of new friendships, as a result of an agreement signed by the British and French education ministers.
In anticipation of the centenary of the Entente Cordial on April 8, Charles Clarke and his French counterpart Luc Ferry agreed last year to find news ways of engaging children with each other across the Channel.
In one of 19 partnerships initiated by the Anglo-French Education Agreement, primary pupils in Peckham and Paris have learnt to communicate through the universal languages of dance and music. An African drumming composition and dance sequence were gifts from Year 5 at Peckham Park primary on a visit to their partner school, cole Primaire Charles Mouraud, last month. And Dunraven school in Bermondsey, London, teamed up with College Valmy in Paris to produce eight radio programmes about life in their cities.
"The children became friends even though they could not communicate in the same language," said Joyce Moore, head of Peckham Park. "The trip taught them about global citizenship, crossing barriers and learning languages."
A second scheme is looking at the introduction of video conferencing links between 10 rural schools in Lincolnshire and the Academie de Poitiers in Poitiers, southwest of Paris.
Helen Schofield, 27, was among 24 teachers and students who received funding for research projects covering everything from the French Resistance to the impact of tourism under the British Council's teacher and student research fellowship schemes.
A French and Spanish teacher at Beal high school in Ilford, Ms Schofield spent a week researching how grammar is taught at College Albert Camus in Meaux, to the east of Paris. "The visit has given me more of an insight into the French system and put a new perspective on my own work," she says.
"I'm already using their ideas."
Students on vocational courses in eight colleges have also taken up work placements in the two capitals, and 70 sixth-formers met in Paris to debate "European Identity". Headteachers and officials attended seminars on issues from pupil behaviour to integration policies.
Katherine Quigley, head of European and international programmes at the Department for Education and Skills, said: "It's very worthwhile to share our experiences, from a policy level right down to individual classes."
The Anglo-French Education Agreement was signed at a summit in Le Touquet last year. The British Council, working with the French ministry and numerous academies, intended that 17,000 pupils would benefit from funding worth pound;1.4 million over two years. So far the programme has cost pound;800,000 and funding is now secured for the second year.