Relaying messages from Europe

28th June 1996 at 01:00
EUROFILE. Roy Pryke outlines details of a new network providing information about the European Union

What is the European Commission's decision on beef derivatives? What is its policy on veal crates? Does the commission support seal-culling? These are just some of the hundreds of questions students and teachers put to the office of the European Commission in London.

There is no national system in England and Wales to disseminate information to students and teachers, yet demand is growing.

Given our responsibility to ensure that students have access to information about issues they are studying, this situation is not acceptable. Their interest in the European scene is evident. They are travelling, studying and working across the continent.

By this time next year we intend that the gap will be plugged. In response to the concerns of the commission in London, I chaired a working group of representatives from local education authorities and other bodies to turn into reality our contention that we were best positioned to establish Relay, a network for providing information to schools and colleges on Europe.

We decided that there could be no single template for the whole country. Circumstances and demands vary. So we need a flexible approach. We also decided that, while the initial task is to provide information, we really want to construct a network which will actively promote the European dimension.

Our proposal is that we should make agency agreements with bodies in each of 13 or so regions in England and Wales. (Current arrangements in Scotland and Northern Ireland are sound, though we continue to work closely with them). The Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges will help secure and sustain the operation of the Relay.

Bodies interested in becoming regional agencies will be expected to offer the basic information service free of charge. They will already have premises, staff, telephones, IT and resource materials. They will also have networks and expertise.

While they will be expected to raise funds locally, the Relay is expected to attract pump-priming funding. Many agencies will piggy-back on existing arrangements, and we want to work closely with libraries.

We have already started to identify potential agencies and we hope that the first can be operating in April 1997. We are optimistic that these will cover most of England and Wales.

Our aim is to ensure that soon all enquiries will be handled effectively and that we shall no longer have students and teachers who feel they have to struggle to find out about the EU's work.

Roy Pryke is director of education services for Kent

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