Where in the world...

10th August 2007 at 01:00
WOODHILL PRIMARY is remarkable for the sheer amount of links it has to schools in other countries. But it is because that sense of internationalism and mutual understanding flows inwards as well as outwards that the Bishopbriggs school truly stands out.

"International education is not about isolated topics but is generally integrated into every aspect of school life I think that is the big difference between us and other schools," said Peter Gollogly, the headteacher.

Judges for the Scottish Edu-cation Awards were so impresssed that they awarded Woodhill first place in the International Schools category. They were struck by a "wide and varied programme of activities" that includes international visits and twinning. The school has particularly close links with six schools spread across Germany, Italy, Austria and the Czech Republic a Hungarian school may also be getting involved with whom it works on a different project each year. Last year it was citizenship, the year before healthy eating.

There are also links with a school in Trinidad and Tobago and Vestfold University College in Norway (several of whose staff have been across to visit Woodhill), as well as an e-twinning project with a school in Paris, while pupils improve skills in French through use of weblogs and podcasts, working in tandem with children in Coventry and in Nancy, France.

The international links are not random, however, as seen in the work done with a school in Tianjin, the third largest city in China, and related projects.

"We have a number of Chinese children in the school, so we felt it was important to let them know we were appreciating their culture," said Aileen Spence, depute headteacher and international co-ordinator.

The emphasis on Chinese culture is an example of how a sense of mutual understanding focuses on local as well as far-flung communities. An after school Chinese ribbon dancing class has started, and is popular with non Chinese as well as Chinese pupils. A parents' after-school group, meanwhile, brings together people from several different cultural and ethnic backgrounds to work on projects and discuss issues, in sessions also attended by their children. This has proved extremely useful with the traditionally private Chinese community in getting them used to coming into the school.

Woodhill is one of the most ethnically diverse schools in Scotland, including pupils from Libya and Zimbabwe, Hindus and Sikhs, and children who have been educated in Germany and Greece; there are 12 languages spoken in the school.

Yet there is no sense of tokenism about the international aspect; the cosmopolitan displays on the school walls are underpinned by fundamental notions of respect and understanding. So, while the children might be seen celebrating Diwali, they also look beyond the surface colour and spectacle of religious and cultural festivals.

"The children are looking at what makes a good citizen," said Miss Spence. "It might be something to do with recycling, it might be to do with caring for one another, and you might say, 'What do they do in other countries?'"

Staff point to the atmosphere within the school walls to sum up the impact of the Woodhill way.

"I think the ethos of the school has been dramatically affected," said Mr Gollogly. "Sometimes you can walk into a building and there is an unwelcoming feel.

"I would like to think when you come in here you feel the calm ethos of the school, and that has undoubtedly been affected by the international work we do here."

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