International Consultancy

Out of Africa - International Education Consultancy in Kenya

Out of Africa – International Education Consultancy in Kenya

Remember that last week in February? Weather was pretty awful wasn’t it?

Well, no, actually. Not for me, it wasn’t. Because I was in Kenya for a week. And yes, that does make me a smug git. But it also makes me a smug git with a suntan in March, so I don’t care. And it makes me someone whose family now owns various bead-related trinkets and a small drum. (At least I managed to resist the wooden salad servers and the carved long wooden face masks – the other traditional accoutrements of the tourist who has done East Africa.)

And I was there for work, not for a holiday, so it wasn’t all elephants and four-wheel drives. Actually, there were quite a few elephants and four-wheel drives at the end of the week, to be honest. Plus a few giraffes. But mostly, it was work. And I can ramp up the ‘smug git’ factor another notch because it’s not the first time I’ve worked there, having first visited about eighteen months ago.

A School in Nairobi

I was back doing international consultancy at a primary school in Nairobi with staff from several schools from Kenya and also from Tanzania. If you’ve ever felt the journey to a training course has been a bit long, consider the teachers from Tanzania, for whom it took around seven hours to get to the school hosting the training. No pressure on me to deliver something worth their time then…

The first training session focused on reasoning and problem-solving in maths, and the other session was about challenges for the most able pupils. This second session led to the interesting conversation in the evening.

Setting the Scene

Let me set the scene. The school has its own visitor accommodation, a coffee shop, and two bars that serve food and drink into the night. So I had to put up with walking about 50 metres from work to get to my room and then walk another whole 50 metres or so to sit in the open-sided bar, looking out over the school sports field as the black kites wheeled and circled, scavenging for any food dropped by the children who stayed for the numerous after-school sports activities, whilst eating freshly cooked food and reacquainting myself with a nice cold Tusker lager. All this whilst the sun went down over the bustling city, a light wind blew in the fronds of the trees and disturbed the vibrant pink and orange blossoms, myriads of insects began the night chorus, and the temperature finally dropped to slightly below 25 degrees. But don’t worry – being a consummate professional, I’m willing to put up with these conditions if it means getting the job done. No pain, no gain and all that.

So maybe the setting was a little different from a typical staff room in England, but this was where many of the teachers congregate in the evenings and the talk turned to a discussion about the most able pupils.

And even though there were teachers from England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Kenya and the USA all involved at some point, and some were primary practitioners. Others taught secondary subjects, the general consensus was that there are several issues to bear in mind when considering the most able pupils. None of these were revolutionary, but it was noticeable that they were shared and often shared with a passion, regardless of where teachers had trained, what age pupils they taught or where in the world they had taught in the past.

Different Starting Points

For a start, the term ’most able’ was not liked at all, mainly because of the possible implication that a pupil was good at everything or good at all areas of a subject. It was believed this can lead to a lack of rigour in assessment, with assumption trumping accuracy. Instead, the phrase ‘different starting point’ was preferred (ring any bells with RAISEonline aficionados?) with the emphasis on proving that the starting point is accurate for all pupils through ongoing rigorous assessment. Let the children surprise you with what they can (or can’t) do.

Another key issue was children labelling themselves as ‘most able’. Everyone knows that children see through the charade of naming ability groups after colours, animals, trees or shapes. You might as well just say, “…and the most able will be working at the table by the window, while the less able will be working with Mrs Smith and you know very well why, don’t you?”

And although this sounds abhorrent from the less able child’s point of view, it can also be detrimental to the most able pupils. They can develop real issues if work is not ‘easy’ because everything they have experienced and been told has conditioned them into thinking they should be good at it. So they can develop a lack of resilience or avoidance strategies when the going gets tough.

Carol Dweck and Growth Mindset

Many school leaders talk about Carol Dweck and the growth mindset, ensuring teachers praise the effort and not the ‘cleverness’, but the feeling is that not many schools consistently walk the growth mindset talk.

Now, you may not agree with this at all. But many staff, meeting at a school thousands of miles away, many of whom had, in turn, travelled thousands of miles to be there, all seemed to share very similar views.

Continue the Discussion

So if you’d like to discuss this further or if you would like to find out more about Focus Education International Consultancy, feel free to buy us both tickets to Nairobi. I’ll bring the sun cream and tourist guide. Alternatively, I do occasionally tweet via @Focustn or come and have a chat at a training course or conference, I can show you my photos of the giraffes. You can also contact Focus Education on 01457 821 818 or learn more about Focus international consultancy services.

Feedback: ‘The Braeburn Group of International Schools (Kenya and Tanzania), has a long-standing relationship with Focus Education. In recent years we have run training courses using consultants to assist with rolling out New Curriculum, Mastery, provision for EAL, Leadership and Assessment. The InSeT facilitators are a pleasure to work with; extremely professional whilst maintaining a friendly, approachable manner. The content has a good balance of theory and practical with a focus on ensuring teachers are able to leave the training with ideas they can put into practice straight away. The impact of the training is always very positive as the material is current and relevant so teachers feel they are kept up-to-date with developments in Education in the UK. We also appreciate the published materials Focus produces to support the training. The providers are always willing to go the extra mile to give access to more resources and give their contacts for teachers to follow up with them should they have any further questions. We highly recommend Focus as InSeT providers for International Schools.’ 

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