School can greatly benefit in terms of CPD from links between a network of schools; in this case one in Lambeth and another in Kosovo, which have brought CPD benefits to teachers in both areas. Elizabeth Gowing explains

Networks are a formidable way to develop professionally, but when one network connects with another then really powerful professional learning can occur. This is what happened when our Lambeth-based network linked up with Kosovo.

The Norwood Achievement Partnership
The Norwood Achievement Partnership (NAP) was set up in 2001 as a network of seven schools – Norwood School and six of its feeder primary schools – working together within an education action zone and with a budget devolved through the local authority. The aims of the partnership were to raise attainment and promote inclusion.

As a teacher, I started working with NAP from the beginning. Although my official role was to offer support to other teachers from our seven schools in their classrooms (at first just in the area of literacy), it was in fact more important to be an ambassador for the idea of working together. In 2001, some of the schools that found themselves in partnership knew next to nothing about each other. That term I bought a bike, and my memory of those early months is dominated by the time spent on it, pedalling through London traffic going from one school to another and back to our small office, telling all the parts of our network about one another and each other’s work.

This network of schools in south London soon became a network of teachers and headteachers, hungry to develop and share their professional learning. We set up peer-observation visits between schools and between phases of education. Headteachers volunteered their staff to be on our good practice register so that teachers could learn from one another beyond their own school; and network groups on subjects such as IT, provision for gifted and talented students or accelerated learning were hosted by teachers from different schools and key stages.

A link across Europe
It has all been positive professional development, although we probably wouldn’t have predicted that we would eventually be sharing and enriching this learning with the network of Save the Children’s schools operating on the other side of Europe. Nevertheless, in the summer term of last session a group of six of our NAP teachers visited partner schools in Kosovo for a professional learning visit funded by the British Council.

Primary schools in Kosovo are for children aged seven to 15 and the kindergartens are for pupils up to age seven. The schools we visited were involved in Save the Children projects to improve inclusion of children with special needs and Roma children, and bilingual and multicultural education to enable children of different ethnic groups to share an education – something which is currently not common practice in Kosovo’s segregated schools.

The levels of learning were enormously diverse, but what united the teachers who took part was the sense of being one network of schools learning from another.

Professional learning
This learning occurred for us during a four-day visit to Kosovo in April. The education system there at first may seem so foreign; ‘primary’ schools with 2,000 pupils aged five to 15 attending school in shifts that continue until early evening because of the lack of school places. However, some issues were familiar – how best to collaborate with parents, or how to make a success of multiculturalism; and multi-faith or multi-lingual education that really is at the cutting edge, in every sense. Kosovo’s ethnic tensions are still very visible and the wounds left from the war that followed the demise of the former Yugoslavia are still very fresh for some.

The Save the Children Mozaik programme, which we saw in operation in three schools, is a high-quality approach to bilingual and multicultural education which we have never had the chance to experience in the UK. Children from two separate ethnic groups (eg Serbian and Albanian) are in joint classes, taught by two educators – one from each ethnic group. The two teachers speak to the children in their own mother tongue from the very beginning, so the children have an experience similar to that of growing up in a bilingual family. It is an approach that has enormous relevance to the situations in which we teach in Lambeth, where so many languages are spoken, and we really felt we learned from it.

In other schools we visited, which did not have the Mozaik system, we realised that one of the best ways to be convinced of the power and the necessity of multicultural education is to spend time in a segregated system, where some of the attitudes and behaviours can be quite shocking.

Of course, during our visit we also learned an enormous amount about daily life in Kosovo, and our learning has been supplemented by exchanges of letters, photographs and drawings between our children. This is a meaningful human geography lesson – for our pupils and for us.

We are hoping that the Kosovan teachers will come and visit us in our schools next academic year, and have been putting together a programme for them. We’ve attempted to identify the things which we do differently from them in the classroom and which they might find benefit in trying, but the challenge is to create a programme which does not rely on interactive whiteboards, or even electricity. It has taken us back to the basics of pedagogy as well as putting us all in the role of mentors for a short period, which is a new role for some in our group.

The visit seemed to give all of us a new pride in our network, as well as a new humility, given the contrast with the conditions that our counterparts in other networks and other classrooms are working in. It gave us the chance to hear other networks talking about ways they communicate and share, and inspired us with the sense that our own network can go even further, to more interesting places, when we are hooked up with another.

Elizabeth Gowing, Norwood Achievement Partnership