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TIPD International Study Visit

Teaching & Learning Strategies

Date:

February 2009

Title:

Teaching & Learning Strategies

Visit Leader:

Kerry Godsman
Kerry.godsman@herrtscc.gov.uk

Educational Purpose of the visit:

Raising standards in rural and inner city schools

Ages observed:

3-15

Country:

Mexico

Print version,
Downloads &
Links:

Full Printable Study Visit Report:

Mixican School
Intended aims of the visit

To contribute to Raising Standards in schools, broadening the understanding of issues and approaches in a range of settings.

  • To explore the effectiveness of approaches and initiatives in a different country.
  • To investigate leadership and management aspects of Raising Standards.
  • To engage in professional dialogue with colleagues from a different country.
Specific areas of focus were
  • How schools overcome barriers/resistance to engage parents in their children’s education.
  • To look at how a school’s ethos/identity can improve motivation/aspirations.
  • Establish international links with schools to broaden children’s understanding of other cultures/countries.
  • How best use is made of environment/ local community/contextualised curriculum to support learning.
Expected outcomes of the visit

To give teachers an opportunity to reflect on their own practices and consider alternative ways to approach their own teaching.The outcomes of the visit will support continued professional development of staff in order to raise pupil’s achievement at individual, class, school and LEA level. The research of another country will also enhance and feed into the teacher's development as reflective practitioners. They will be able to experience practice in another country to enhance and support current developments within their schools.There will be opportunities to engage in ways to enhance the curriculum to make it more broad and enriched.

How were these to be identified and recorded

Regular meetings took place before the visit to clarify expected objectives and outcomes.
Teachers in each of the schools also prepared and delivered a brief presentation based upon Raising Standards in their own schools.  Examples included PowerPoint presentations and packs with examples of children’s work. These were shared with, and subsequently given to the host schools and provided an excellent starting point for professional dialogue.

Key questions based on the theme were agreed and the answers collated and recorded during the daily school visits and submitted to the group leader on the final day. Subsequently a review meeting was held on return to collate information.

Report of the experience

Pupils in MexicoThe visit was a success in terms of the intended aims and objectives. Every member gained a considerable amount from the experience, both personally and professionally. All group members were very positive about the overall experience, which had elements that were inspirational and refreshing. The practical arrangements worked well, and the welcome that we received from all parties was genuine and extensive. The British Council had put together a programme that provided a broad, rich and valuable experience of Mexican rural schooling. The quality and commitment of our interpreters (secondary English teachers) ensured we got the most out of our visits to schools and learned more about the country and its traditions and culture.

Out of a population of 170 million in Mexico there are approx. 800,000 teachers and 25 million pupils in Primary education. Kindergarten has been made mandatory from the age of 4, but there is currently a shortage of schools and teachers. Despite secondary education being mandatory to the age of 15 there is often a large drop out rate, particularly in rural areas as girls are needed to help look after younger siblings and boys are often needed to work. Some regions are offering scholarships to encourage families to keep children in education. We visited 24 schools across the age range 3-15.  We observed a range of subjects being taught and received presentations from students about their work in lessons and in extra-curricular activities. We also met with student teachers at the teacher training centre and took part in discussions with teachers from schools across the region that we had not been able to visit. Our welcome at the schools we visited could not have been warmer.

Education is free and children attend the school within their own community, although in the rural schools some had a two hour journey to school on horseback each morning. Children may attend either a morning or afternoon session. The same building will be used for both sessions but the Head teacher and staff in most cases are different. The school sessions were generally 3 - 4 hours including breaks and as salaries are low, many teachers worked in two different schools and some who were HTs at one school in the morning, supplemented their salaries (often no different to their teachers’) by teaching at a different school in the afternoon. Teaching is a respected but poorly paid profession. Teachers can increase their salaries (often beyond that of a head) by taking further voluntary exams.

Classroom in MexicoThe curriculum was delivered through schemes of work provided nationally and textbooks and some ICT materials were provided to support delivery. There are currently National programmes with funding for books to support improved engagement in Reading. Religious Education is not taught in any state schools. Teachers were able to choose how they delivered the curriculum in their classrooms and not all had to write out plans. We saw a mixture of teaching techniques; some small group work, some whole class teaching, some differentiated tasks and some activity based learning. The teachers move around the class to work with children who struggle and when we discussed differentiation, most of the teachers showed us the children’s books and discussed differentiation by outcome. The use of personalised learning with regard to the inclusion of all students with learning difficulties is in the early stages of development. We saw dedicated staff, often working with large groups of children and with limited resources, which left every member of our group questioning practice in the UK, which frequently relies upon demands for more resources. In some schools, teachers provided Saturday school or extra lessons (without pay) in the afternoon for children who had not met the minimum standards. There were few complaints about lack of resources, with teachers stating “resources aren’t the key to high standards, good teaching is”.

We were very impressed with the weekly assemblies that promote national pride and celebrate Mexican culture, heritage and way of life. In many schools, children wear a different uniform on the Monday, when most celebrations take place and the local council officials try to attend a selection of these over the year. There was a strong emphasis upon Mexican traditions and culture.  This is further developed in local history lessons, promoting an impressive sense of national pride and achievement. In every case there was a great sense of community and belonging. 

Behaviour in lessons was generally good. We recognised the positive impact on the culture of the school of the respect the children and parents have for the staff and each other. A key contribution to this was that parents and children see education as the key to providing better work opportunities and improved social conditions. In one school we saw a display of letters that parents had written to their children to let them know how proud of them they were and to reinforce the value of education. There were local community based initiatives to ensure that children from poor families had sufficient food at school to enable them to concentrate and learn.

Parents are actively encouraged, included and involved in education from when their children are at a very early age, despite a number of significant challenges. All efforts are made to engage them through providing reading materials, television adverts etc that will assist them. In every school we visited we were impressed by the creative use of parent volunteers. There was involvement in supervision and preparation of meals throughout the day, decoration of classrooms, cleaning of the rooms and fundraising. Although we rarely saw parents supporting children in classrooms this may, in some cases, be due to their lack of confidence in their own educational levels. We saw examples of schools working with parents to break down traditional institutional barriers associated with parent’s own (often incomplete) education. Parenting classes were run for selected parents where issues which impacted on the children’s learning had been identified. Homework was often set daily, with an expectation that parents would support as much as possible. At kindergarten and preschool there were government provided resources to support parents in providing learning through play, with clear explanations of the learning value of each activity. Reports are issued three times a year and parents come into the schools to collect them, which ensured almost 100% attendance at parent teacher interviews.

Government tests are carried out every two months in maths, reading and knowledge of the environment. The results were displayed publicly on the walls in most schools. There are National examinations each April to measure children’s ability, teaching quality and to ensure standardisation. These are to support the schools rather than for public consumption. We saw little evidence of the sort of whole school data collection which would allow analysis of progress within specific genders, ethnic groups, SEN etc and targeting of support, although nationally it has been identified that girls outperform boys at primary level.  Supervisors, similar to our local authority School Improvement Partners, monitor school performance through visits and test results. Schools who achieved well in National standards quality contests were rewarded by money for resources e.g. computers.

We also recognised the essential role of effective leadership. Head teachers do not control their own budget. The government provides buildings, but very little maintenance so air conditioning, roof repairs, plumbing etc usually has to be provided through fundraising. Basic textbooks and materials are provided by the government, but any additional items need to be purchased through fundraising from the parents, local community and businesses, and their success at this is a key element in terms of a head teacher being able to influence standards in their school. They also do not have control over teacher recruitment as teachers are allocated by the education authority and the union wherever there is a vacancy. There is very little teacher mobility and where there may be issues around motivation or quality of teaching the head teacher can face considerable challenges.

Evaluation

Summary of the key educational outcomes

  • Heightened awareness of the need for good leadership at all levels in schools.
  • Recognition of the important role parents are expected to play in supporting their child’s learning. The involvement of the whole community in supporting children’s education is invaluable.
  • Recognition of the importance of citizenship and a sense of pride in belonging at a local and national level, regardless of ethnicity or culture.
How can the findings be applied to the UK context?

Develop the relationship with parents to promote a positive attitude to education, especially where they may not have had positive experiences themselves. Involving parents in the school community and valuing all contributions.

Inspirational leadership at all levels is the key to success, particularly in tackling and overcoming difficulties and this was evident in all the schools visited. 

The importance of effective head teachers who were able to work with parents to enhance the learning experience for children and staff Strengthen the position of SEAL, PSHE and Citizenship within our curriculum.

How will you apply them to your work?

Develop the Extended Schools Agenda. Look at ways to involve the schools in the wider community and to support children in identifying themselves as belonging and contributing to their local Community.
Develop communication between schools and school clusters to share ways in which they encourage the creative involvement of parents in school life.

Share the experience of consistent mutual respect shown by pupils when in contact with adults in classrooms and playground. Explore ways to strengthen this through schools’ ethos.
Further develop the cross curricular and themed approach seen in many schools.

How do you now intend to disseminate the findings of your visit?

Hertfordshire will publish the initial written report on the Herts Grid for Learning. Teachers will be expected to disseminate their experiences to colleagues in both their own schools and those who are interested in similar issues. This will take the form of INSET, reports to Governors staff meetings or presentations and delivering whole school assemblies for pupils and parents. Individual Action plans will include information on how the visit has impacted upon their practice and the sort of impact the visit has had in terms of school displays, themed days, lesson content and or information on the school websites. Arrangements have been made to maintain contact between the schools which took part in the visit to support each other and share strategies and approaches to dissemination.

Proposals for future developments and continuing links

The visit has inspired and motivated the teachers to want to maintain and develop links with Mexican colleagues.

We envisage these links taking the form of;

  • Setting up e-mail links with schools
  • Exchanging letters with pupils
  • Send copies of photographs to individual schools
  • Teacher exchanges to disseminate best practise and develop further links between both the professionals and the children would also be welcomed.  All group members would like to find a way to enable a group of Mexican teachers to take part in a visit to share practice. Schools willing to host such exchanges have been identified.
General advice for other visitors to the country/region:

The hospitality shown to us in Mexico was far beyond anything we had anticipated, so be prepared for a warm welcome and lots of excitement.

Be prepared for a packed itinerary with a minimum of free time.

Make sure you take plenty of gifts and photographs that give a flavour of our life and culture.

Allow space in your luggage for gifts - people are hospitable and very generous

Party leaders need to be prepared for press interviews and for impromptu speeches at formal and informal gatherings. Group members are treated like minor celebrities.

Be prepared to eat in every school and aware there is often not much provision for vegetarians.

Be prepared for hot weather - mosquito repellent is essential.

Take pesos, but also dollars for any flight stopovers.

Keep your landing visa in a safe place for your return journey

It was a very rewarding, but exhausting visit. Try to negotiate PPA time for your first day back in school.

The full report is available to download on the right of this page.