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Polesworth high school, Tamworth,Warwickshire
In a shrinking world, links with schools in developing countries will expand pupils' horizons and make them global citizens
On a dark, dismal day in December, Africa seems a long way from the gloom of the English Midlands. But at Polesworth high school, African influences are everywhere you look. Noticeboards show photographs of Pampawie school, Polesworth's partner in Ghana; a stained glass window celebrates the link, and, in the art room, GCSE students are working on African style textiles.
Outside, the Ghanaian garden has metal sculpted cocoa pods and a design linking the countries' two flags, while in the head's office, Ghanaian drums are awaiting collection by the music department.
The partnership started in 1999 under the Millennium On the Line project, run by Oxfam, Channel 4 and the conservation charity WWF-UK, which linked hundreds of schools along the Greenwich meridian line. "Our school is predominantly white, so we needed to find ways of teaching about race issues and expanding our pupils' horizons," says headteacher Andy Clarke.
"This really catches their imagination."
Almost 60 pupils belong to the lunchtime Ghana Club, writing to pupils in Ghana, and raising money by putting on sponsored events and selling fair-trade chocolate bars. "It makes you think about things you take for granted," says Year 8 student Jack Storey. "Over there you can't just go to the fridge when you're hungry."
Pampawie school is in eastern Ghana, fives hours' travel from Accra, in an area without telephones and only intermittent electricity - although it now has a satellite phone and a computer, thanks to Polesworth. But the link is emphatically not about hand-outs. "The curriculum must be at the heart of it, otherwise it becomes just a charitable mission," says Andy Clarke, "and we can learn from them, as much as they can learn from us."
He recently visited Pampawie, with Ghana link co-ordinator Sharon Simons, and the two schools hammered out a five-year plan of joint curriculum projects.
At Polesworth, maths classes now study symmetry by looking at Ghanaian prayer stools, while the geography department is working on a major Science Museum project about global warming, which includes responses from Pampawie.
In the English department, Sharon Simons has secured a pound;750 British Council grant to develop work on descriptive writing with Pampawie, while a psychology teacher is planning to research child-rearing practices in Ghana and the UK.
Other plans include more teacher visits - so far two groups of Polesworth teachers have visited Ghana, and one group of Ghanaian visitors has been to Polesworth - as well as pupil exchanges. Polesworth is also committed to building and furnishing a resources centre at Pampawie.
The link has fostered the school's sense of community, and staff say it has given their teaching renewed vitality.
"Ultimately, teaching's a moral mission," says Andy Clarke. "And this inspires you. It refreshes you. Then you start to be an inspired teacher again. It's also about improving teaching and learning, which has to be the holy grail for anyone who cares about education." It costs the school very little, he says, but the rewards are enormous.
Ones to watch
Windows on the World Matchmaking service for finding school partners
European Schoolnet Building school links across Europe
Link Community Development For partnership schemes with Africa