Thursday, 24 December 2009

Preparing for Ghana

In early November I took part in an intensive VSO training weekend held at their centre in Birmingham. This was when I met up with the eleven other volunteers, including Janet and Karen who are also going to Ghana. Janet is a Headteacher of a primary school in Worthing, West Sussex. She will be working in Walewale in the Northern Region. Karen is a headteacher of a primary school in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire and she will be going to Jirapa in the Upper West Region.

The training aimed to equip us with the knowledge and skills needed to work effectively in our placements. The two facilitators, Jules and Marianne, were excellent and frequently drew upon their own experiences as volunteers which contextualised the training activities and helped to make the weekend extremely interesting and highly relevant.

Areas covered by the training included VSO’s approach to development which is well summarised by its motto: Sharing Skills – Changing Lives and the place of education in development. The key issues relating to education in developing countries involve the unequal opportunities for girls and children with special needs; lack of resources, including teacher shortages; the quality of teaching; the impact of poverty on participation and the standards children achieve.

Central to VSO’s work is the empowerment of local people and the development of sustainable solutions. We looked at various ways of involving everyone potentially affected by developments in the decision making process. We also explored a number of actual scenarios that volunteers had encountered and looked at the different ways we could draw upon our knowledge and skills to deal with similar situations should they happen to us.

The health briefing covered all the potential hazards to our well being and there seemed to be an awful lot of them! It made us question why anyone would want to leave these benign shores! It appears that the smaller the organism, the bigger the risk to a person’s health – that is if you discount hippopotami. However, the medical advice on endemic diseases, food preparation, water purification, hygiene, and precautions to take to minimise potential risks to personal health and security was very reassuring. Nobody was put off, but all vowed to visit the GP to be fully immunised against Typhoid, Polio, Diptheria, Tetanus, Hepatitis A & B, Meningitis ACWY, Rabies, Cholera and Yellow Fever!  I have also visited Boots the Chemists to stock up on Imodium, rehydration kits, insect repellants, various bite relief products and anti-fungal creams!

Finally, we looked at ways of enhancing the international dimension at our schools and the awareness of development issues within our local communities.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Leaders in International Development Project

The Leaders in International Development Project aims to provide mutually beneficial leadership development opportunities for school leaders from England and for senior education practitioners in one of Voluntary Service Oversea's (VSO) education programmes. The project is led by VSO with the support of the National Association of Headteachers, the Association of School and College Leaders and The National College. I'm also personally very grateful to the Governing Body of Walton High ( for allowing me to take part in this initiative and to my colleagues on the Senior Team for all their support.

In the spring term of 2010, the twelve headtachers taking part in this year's project will be going in groups of three to Ghana, Namibia, Nigeria and Rwanda to work alongside colleagues from these countries and other volunteers on various education projects.

I will be going to the Upper East Region of Ghana, close to the border with Burkina Faso. Although I will be living in the capital of this region, Bolgatanga (known locally as Bolga), it is expected that I will be working with schools in nearby Tongo in the Talensi-Nabdam district.
The Ghana Education Service is committed to working with VSO to make education more inclusive, particularly for girls and children with disabilities. This is achieved by equipping teachers with the skills required to identify and meet the needs of individual children, including those with special needs.

Background and rationale for placement:
VSO Volunteers work with Circuit Supervisors (CS) and District Teacher Support Teams (DTST) to provide support to over 600 primary school teachers in thirteen Districts in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions. This includes sharing of skills on Phonics as a way of teaching literacy; lesson observations; building the capacity of teachers to identify and support children with learning difficulties and mild disabilities; School/Cluster based training and follow-up support for workshops run by partner Non Government Organisations (NGOs).

The VSO Management Support Officer role is designed to support the Senior Management Team, Circuit Supervisors and Headteachers. However, because of the multiple target groups being dealt with the headteachers often get very little support. VSO feel that by placing a volunteer specifically focusing on headteachers, support for them will improve. This is done in conjunction with Management Support Officers who can carry on with any work initiated by Headteacher Support Officers once their placement ends.

The aim of my placement is to improve the leadership and management capabilities of the headteachers I'll be working with.

Specific duties are likely to include:
1. Lead headteachers and staff in basic schools (Primary and Middle Schools in England) to do a quick organization self assessment as a basis for planning and targeted support.
2. Provide training and coaching on leadership skills and management for headteachers.
3. Provide training and coaching on developing school improvement plans and budgets, staff support and management.
4. Coach on how headteachers can provide instructional support to their teachers through demonstration lessons to make their teaching more inclusive for all children.
5. Coach headteachers on how to work with Parent Teacher Associations and School Management Committees (similar to governing bodies in England).
6. Revive/form a network of headteachers in the district to create a platform for support, learning and sharing among headteachers
7. Train a core team of headteachers/Circuit Supervisors who are willing and enthusiastic to provide leadership and coordination to keep the leaning and sharing ongoing.