Visiting schools in other countries is always interesting. Taking visitors from other countries around schools locally is equally informative. So has it been over the past two days as our Indian visitors from the MA course in Bangalore have spent time in Northamptonshire schools.
In my experience teachers and school principals are always generous with their time and keen to show their schools to visitors. They single out particular successes and demonstrate innovations that make their own establishment unique. As an observer during these visits I am often in awe of the professionalism on display and the enthusiasm of our teaching colleagues. Today with five of our students I visited Fairfield School in Northampton where one of the Deputy Head Teachers, Sarah showed us around and described how the staff work with pupils with complex and often multiple learning needs. As she presented specialist facilities and resources, including a soft play area and a light stimulation room her knowledge of their utility and the application of these with specific children gave a clear indication of her professionalism. When our visitors asked question she answered in depth and demonstrated a dextrous ability to contextualise and generalise information.
Invariably during visits of this nature teachers are able to focus on those aspects of schooling that they have in common. During the visits over the past two days my Indian colleagues related well to some of the challenges faced by the teachers in English classrooms and the ways in which they develop effective learning relationships with children. It is equally true to say that they are able to hone in on differences across the two educational cultures. These are not restricted to material matters, though the availability of teaching resources in England makes our Indian colleagues envious, differences in terms of the expectations upon teachers and their accountability through inspection procedures appeared to occupy many of their concerns.
Over the past two days in addition to seeing children in classrooms in various schools our Bangalorian colleagues have scrutinised teacher lesson plans, school curriculum and assessment documents and policies related to inclusion and special educational needs. They have debated the various merits and problems presented by these, considered their applicability to their own school contexts and tried to gauge how the documentation impacts upon teaching and learning. Our hosts in Northamptonshire schools have given a great deal of time to engage in discussion and debate and have, I hope enjoyed the opportunity of this inter-change as much as have our Indian students. I am greatly impressed by the willingness of English teachers to share the work they have developed with colleagues from elsewhere. The exchanging of ideas and resources has been critical for teachers who put the needs of children at the head of their agenda. I do hope that our Indian students will be able to further share both their own ideas and the learning they have gained in England on their return to their own country.
Making time for professional discussion has always been an important feature of the education of teachers. Securing time to reflect on current issues in teaching, the development of strategies and approaches and in gaining insights into the reasoning behind the work we do is invariably useful. The opportunities to do this with colleagues from a very different education system and who work in contrasting conditions and with a range of conflicting expectations adds a further dynamic to the discussion. It is essential that as teachers we take every chance we have to increase our understanding of how children learn by participating in discussions of this nature.
As we say goodbye to our Indian visitors, we do so with a hope that they feel that they have had learning experiences that may have benefits for their work once they return home. In September we will meet again in Bangalore where I know I will continue to learn from opportunities to debate with colleagues and gain insights into the challenges that they face in their schools. So as they leave us we wish them bon voyage and thank you for allowing us to introduce you to the teachers, children and schools of whom we are particularly proud here in Northamptonshire.