Wednesday, 8 February 2012

New Heads with Hearts & Minds

Having vowed to remain positive in all my blog postings, I just need to describe this day to people who have ever attended training in the world of educationalists. “Horror struck” was the best description of my state of mind by midday. This was day 1 of a 2 day training programme for new headteachers ………..well relatively new. They have all been in post for over 5 months with no funds and precious little guidance on anything.

The training was to begin at 8am and a few participants were there ready at that time. I applaud their professionalism, as the course facilitators were nowhere to be seen until 9am and then they changed the venue. The first hour was spent removing desks from a classroom and filling it with plastic chairs. People arrived in an assortment of coats and ear muffs and we were all signed in and ready to start by 10am. However, we needed to wait for the Director of Education to arrive. She had an important visitor, evidently. So we all waited. Finally, chairs scraped as everyone stood to welcome her. She addressed all assembled with various bits of random advice about managing schools, declared the workshop open and left.
I am posting this photo of our Director sporting the new office uniform with 2 of her drivers.

10.30 and surely we must start the real business now! No, there were pieces of housekeeping to be covered, like who would be workshop “secretary” ( the person who stayed awake, took notes and summarised the day at the end for those who slept), “welfare” (ensuring there was enough water and dealing with anyone who lost the will to live) and “time keeper” ( sorry, I collapsed at that point). All this time phones were going off, not ringing, but bursting into the most appalling disco music and folks went out to answer them. We VSO volunteers were invited to say a little about our work, which was interrupted frequently by one of the facilitators. There were three of them, District Officers, who had clearly not discussed how the day would run nor agreed who would take which responsibility. A little tension was obvious as someone came around dishing out a pen and an exercise book each. There were still “Workshop Norms” to get through….Phones off, punctuality and not interrupting people, were recorded! Fat chance!

We did start then. The chief facilitator was interrupted during his third sentence when it was announced “Breakfast is ready”! Don’t be alarmed. This is Banku in a palm nut soup with cow meat and a dash of okra and chilli. (eaten with your fingers!) It was actually, rather good, except I had recently eaten porridge and a boiled egg. By 11.10 we had finished breakfast, a few more headteachers had arrived, two backing babies and we were ready to resume our learning.

First session…. Scare all the new heads to death by going through the Code of Professional Conduct word by word emphasising the misdemeanours leading to dismissal! I almost resigned at that point until I remembered this didn’t actually apply to me. The participants endured this session quietly until “Sexual Offences” were mentioned and then most of the men laughed. This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered inappropriate laughing by Ghanaian men. I could suggest they don’t know how else to respond but I don’t know.  Amongst unacceptable behaviours including drinking and smoking in the classroom, for which examples of teachers were identified from the district, caning of children was mentioned and should be kept to a maximum of three strokes, by the way.

As the day wore on and people started to look forward to their second meal, chicken and rice this time, attention turned to the process of getting paltry sums of money from the District to run your school. We had 2 hours of painful bureaucratic descriptions of form filling and the gathering of receipts for pitifully small amounts of money. It is clear that nobody should be trusted and headteachers are expected to swindle the system and run off with all the pencils and correction fluid they can find. They receive the princely sum of 4.5 Ghana Cedis (£1.80) per child each year. The workshop ended abruptly due to the imminent  kick off (no  two and a half hour delay there!) for Ghana’s semi-final football match in the Africa Cup.

So much about this day horrified me. I am used to working alongside professional headteachers who are in a position of authority and respect, gained through hard work and ambition. They have climbed to that position over years and jumped through numerous hoops to fight their way to headship.  Here they are thrown into it, often against their wishes, without training, support or resources. Some show initiative and have a good idea about what would improve their schools. A little guidance and direction can help individual heads to begin the process of developing their staff and the educational provision in school.  Autonomy and imaginative leadership are not encouraged by the authorities. It is too dangerous and they are not ready for it! They just want headteachers who will toe the District line, keep order and complete the correct forms. The status quo and staying quietly inside the box is most acceptable. Oh, for the merest hint of trust!

I know heads among this group who could enjoy rich, professional rewards through achieving exciting learning experiences with their staff and pupils. However, they will need to be brave to take on the plodding dinosaur of the education authority and break it’s gnarled back. Shaking off the exhaustingly mundane, pedantic and painfully unimaginative expectations of the current system will take a lot of confidence and motivation. When you are criticised much more often than you receive praise or encouragement it is hard to believe you have skills and qualities to offer as a leader. My heart & huge respect go out to all headteachers who show initiative here and I pray they can be brave enough to claw their way out of this suffocating box and give their schools individuality and a chance of exciting learning. They and their children deserve it.

I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to day 2 !!

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