When Jenny Brown spent five weeks at an African school, not only did it give the school valuable support - it also helped her win promotion back in the UK.
Through the summer of 2001 she worked at the Little Flower school in Qumbu, a small community in the Transkei, in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. She was taking part in a scheme designed to support schools and pupils in Africa, but at the same time offer UK teachers and heads professional development experience with a global perspective.
The initiative has now been extended - over the next three years the Global Teachers Programme will offer 150 teachers and heads from Britain the chance to work in rural South Africa, Uganda or Ghana. The closing date for next year's scheme is January 16.
Ms Brown had been a maths teacher for three years when she went on her placement. "In terms of professional experience it was fantastic," she says. "In my last school I was assistant head of year with one responsibility point.
"In South Africa I was looking at whole-school issues. In a school with 2,000 students, somebody with one point doesn't get that kind of experience."
The Little Flower school had 300 pupils, ranging in age from 13 to 20. It had been built by the community and was run by a principal, with a senior teacher and a dozen classroom teachers. Ms Brown helped the school to identify areas for development. For example, the school had a room of donated PCs and she worked with staff to make learning more interactive.
"I realised a lot more about myself professionally, and I think it gave me a lot more confidence to do things which I wouldn't necessarily do otherwise."
Now 27, she is head of PSHE and Citizenship at Toot Hill school, Bingham, Nottingham. She puts her promotion down to her experience in South Africa.
"I just don't think I would have had the confidence to do this job without it," she says. "You come back and you see your own life and school in a completely different light."
The Global Teachers Programme is run by Link Community Development, a charity that works with schools and education departments in various African countries to improve education there and help raise children out of poverty. Link says the programme offers participants "a challenging, rewarding and motivating professional and personal development experience".
The teachers' involvement lasts for 16 months in all, although it is centred around a five-week summer placement. Link provides participating teachers with comprehensive training and support before, during and after their placements. They go to one of the project schools and share skills and expertise in school leadership and management.
The charity stresses that teachers' contribution to the schools'
development is highly valued because the schools would rarely receive such intensive professional support otherwise.
But that contribution doesn't end with the placement. Lessons learned from them are used by Link and the local education departments to help inform local practice and national policy in those countries. As well as making a valuable contribution to the development of an African school, becoming a Global Teacher allows you to develop skills as a trainer and consultant, improve your leadership and management and deepen understanding of school improvement.
Participants also get to live in a rural community and learn about the culture and local way of life, as well as the country's development challenges. Back in their own schools, teachers receive guidance on how to make the best use of their experience. Examples include focusing on curriculum enrichment and bringing a global dimension to bear on citizenship and a range of other subjects, or helping to develop new resources. Most teachers invoved maintain links with their placement schools.
David Mansfield, head of Southend high school for girls, spent his placement at the remote Sophonia senior secondary school in northern Transkei. His morning journey into school took an hour and a half in the back of a four-wheel-drive truck.
"It gives you a huge perspective," he says. "You realise that the things you moan about in the staff room at home are foolishness in comparison. And when you see these kids so keen to learn - many of them walking 10 to 15 kilometres to get to school in the morning, uniform perfect because they washed it the night before - you realise this is something worth doing. It reminds you why you first signed up to become a teacher."
Lyn Corderoy was a primary class teacher when she applied for the scheme.
She is now deputy head at Grange primary school in Wickford, Essex.
She worked at Sakorit school, a small primary in Ghana. "I was there to support the staff on development issues, and to help the head with monitoring and mentoring. I took lessons, and staff watched - and then we discussed it.
"It was a fantastic experience - it's done me a world of good. It's made me appreciate the education system here in some ways and not in others.
"We are incredibly well resourced here in comparison. But the children there were much more self-sufficient and there was a great will to learn.
On some mornings I was the only member of staff when school started.
"And the children there were able to organise themselves. They set up the school every morning. They cleaned the place. They set out the furniture.
It was a real eye-opener."
FIND OUT MORE
* The London Challenge provides pound;1,000 bursaries for teachers and heads in the capital enrolled on National College for School Leadership or London Leadership Centre professional development courses. Scottish participants can get similar support from the Educational Institute of Scotland. Those working elsewhere can apply for various grants to help them with the scheme.
A full list comes with an information pack from Link Community Development.
See www.lcd.org.uk or telephone 020 7681 8763. The closing date for applications for next year is January 16.
* The scheme is funded by HSBC Education Trust, with partnership funding from the Department for Education and Skills, the Scottish Executive Education Department and the General Teaching Council for Wales.