British heads are proving keen to sign up for Euro partnerships, reports Frances Rafferty. Finnish principals had never found themselves more popular at the annual conference of the European Secondary Heads Association - and not just because Helsinki was the venue.
They soon found themselves victims of predatory British headteachers in what became a Socrates dating agency. Many schools are now trying to put together multi-partnership projects so they can bid for the European Union's Comenius programme, part of Socrates, the teacher exchange and school links programme.
The project needs at least three member states (Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein also count) to take part. The European project should be cross-curricular, include the whole school population and be part of the school development plan. The co-ordinator school, if successful, is expected to receive 3,000 ecu (Pounds 2,340) and the partnership schools 2,000 ecu (Pounds 1,560).
"Excuse me, I must dash. There is a spare seat by my Finn," said one head from Barnsley in hot pursuit of her quarry. Finland is particularly popular because it is a more unusual country for a UK school to be linked with and therefore could stand more chance of succeeding than bids for the more usual links with France or Germany. Portuguese and Italian delegates were also popular for this reason. But the added advantage of Finns is that they all speak English.
Socrates was a major feature of the conference and speeches and workshops concentrated on how different exchanges programmes were working in different countries. It was also a useful opportunity for those attending to swap information informally.
Maureen Cruickshank, principal of Beauchamps College, Leicester, was slightly sceptical. She said: "The multi-partner project is well worth doing for itself, but if heads think it is just another way of getting extra funding then they will be disappointed - 3,000 ecus is not a lot of money."
Because of the late ratification of the EU education programmes, the guidelines of Comenius will not be available until the end of the month or early July. The deadline, however, is July 31.
The advice from the Central Bureau for Educational Exchanges and Visits, the UK agency responsible for administering the programme, is to wait for the guidelines before submitting a bid if schools have their partnerships arranged.
Judith Hemery, head of the teacher-exchange unit at the bureau, said: "If a school has not already made the links, then I would advise it to concentrate on building up partnerships and making sure they are on a solid foundation. There are grants available for teachers who are doing the preparatory visits and for headteachers also involved."
There are also 100 grants for teachers to go out to a school in another member state for two weeks to develop a project to put up as a bid. The bureau for educational exchanges is running briefing meetings throughout the UK giving advice on how to bid.
Ms Hemery said: "Anybody who takes part, or who has made enquiries of the bureau will automatically be sent the new guidelines and application forms. So far we have had a good response except for primary and special schools.
"It is a pity because it is a great opportunity for primary schools."
Dates of the briefings can be obtained from the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges, Seymour Mews House, Seymour Mews, London W1H 9PE, 0171-486 5101.