Where the walls have eyes and ears

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
Some of Hockerill's links with schools and institutions around the world have been built on an ad hoc basis, others through more official channels.

Since the mid-1990s, the school has been working closely with Nottingham University, which runs the UK's only bilingual teacher training course.

Nottingham has turned Hockerill, in effect, into an observatory, using funds from Hockerill's status as a training school. Cameras, ceiling microphones and interactive whiteboards have been installed in two classrooms to allow up to 80 trainee teachers at Nottingham to watch model lessons and then talk to teachers and students.

Dr Do Coyle, vice dean of Nottingham's school of education and in charge of its bilingual teacher training, says: "Hockerill is highly innovative and forward looking in terms of what their training has achieved and the standard of languages they've managed to get from a whole range of students, not just the best ones."

That has allowed researchers at Nottingham to follow the progress of Hockerill students and analyse good practice. Hockerill teachers have also been able to carry out trials of classroom techniques for getting pupils to speak more spontaneously.

Work with Nottingham led to the link with Coll ge Ste Veronique in Li ge, Belgium, where Hockerill has installed similar video conferencing equipment and where teachers hope for the first time to move beyond exchanges to run joint projects and share curriculum ideas.

Connections with some schools came about from Mike Ullmann, head of languages, through personal contacts. His wife is from the Lyon area, where Hockerill runs exchanges with Coll ge Marcel Ayme in Dagneux.

But a five-year link with Lycee Paul Cezanne in Aix-en-Provence arose from Dialogue 2000, the initiative run by the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges (now part of the British Council). Dialogue 2000 funding, intended to promote bilateral links between schools, ran for three years, but the school felt the connection was so successful it now funds it itself.

Shared teaching with French schools has been more difficult because of the rigidity of the country's curriculum. In fact, during the Aix exchanges, Hockerill sixth-formers are taught by their own teachers from England - albeit mostly in French. But the immersion in French culture that comes from spending a month in Provence contributes to students' progress.

Mr Ullmann says: "There are three things at the root of how far we've come in French and languages: the bilingual section; the insistence on teaching only in the target language; and the exposure to the language through our trips."

As a language college, Hockerill is required to work with the community and spread its expertise. Teachers work part-time in six of its feeder primary schools, and the school has developed video conferencing links with Dartford grammar school in Kent, which has its own nascent bilingual section.

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