Double A-level maths? Yes please...

It's easy to get fed-up, disillusioned, even cynical about education in Britain. Newspapers seem full of what was wrong in education, what is wrong and what is about to go wrong. But there's much that is good about being a teacher in Britain - often the small things that we take for granted are sources of wonder for students and teachers from other countries.

During the summer, Box Hill School, near Dorking in Surrey, hosted an exchange with 10 Romanian students, aged 16-17. They stayed with families to get an idea of "normal" English life, visited school for three days and joined in lessons - winning the hearts of all teachers by asking for a double A-level maths lesson!

Climbing, abseiling and the "zip wire" were favourite activities - and, of course, they saw the sights of London, including the Tower and a visit to meet the Romanian ambassador's wife. In the last few days of term, they went in search of Cornish surf. When their visit ended, we parted with tears and promises to keep in touch.

Andrea has since written: "The biggest differences between our two countries are not about technology, or wealth, or entertainment - they're about the people and the relationships between them. What do I mean? The school is totally different from ours. The teachers are the pupils' friends, without shouting or telling them to shut up. They are all interested in the young man's or woman's life, not only in the future concerning their subjects."

Raluca wrote: "The thing that most impressed me about England was the many choices. For example, if you have a diploma in something, you don't have to practise that job all your life. You can choose to do so many things. You can even choose your food at school dinners!" She also liked the kindness of the shop assistants. "When you go into a shop they always do all the things that make you feel good when you buy something. In Romanian shops, it is easy to feel that the assistants are doing customers the greatest possible favour by allowing them even to enter the premises."

Horia, the only male in the group, summed up the impact of Britain: "St Paul's, a great Gothic cathedral, is surrounded by modern buildings. Near the fence, a tree, Mahatma Gandhi's tree. Two saints of two people together in the same place. One fought for God, one for freedom. Britain honours both."

Think of their reactions as you face the challenges and excitements of a new school year. One last thought; in Romania, even the most experienced teachers cannot earn more than Pounds 40 a month.

Pat Smith is a teacher at Box Hill School, Surrey

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