Laurence Pollock reports.
These are dynamic times for schools in Uganda. The government's commitment to universal education has seen numbers rise at primary level from under three million to 6.5 million.
The number of secondary pupils is set to double in numbers to nearly 800,000. This growth is driving an urgent programme to build school governing structures.
All schools are fee-paying but the private sector generally charges less and is absorbing most of the extra pupils. Currently 60 per cent of primaries and half of secondaries are private, often catering for poorer pupils. Impending legislation will require all private schools to demonstrate that they have a functioning governing body before they become registered.
Building up boards and associations from scratch is a tough task. The British Council in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, has promoted a remarkable partnership in the past two years, between UK governor training expertise and Ugandan educational management, to plug the gap.
Oxfordshire governor trainer Michele Robbins has made two visits to Uganda to help workshops design and draft guidance on governing and managing the country's private schools. And last month, a team of experienced Ugandan educators and managers spent a week over here seeing how the English system works.
Michele Robbins hopes to persuade the visitors that governing bodies are not a necessary evil, but there to enhance educational practice.
"There is resistance from some proprietors in the private sector who do not want to be challenged on how they are spending money," she said.
A party of nine, guided by Edreda Tuwangye, the British Council programme education manager in Kampala, visited Michele Robbins' Oxfordshire patch recently. They saw schools in session, looked at video conferencing and attended governors' meetings. They met officials from the Office for Standards in Education and the Department for Education and Employment.
At the end of the week they arrived at 300-pupil Hagbourne primary near Didcot, a successful and sought-after school. The chair of governors, Monica Lawson, is due to receive an MBE for her work. Headteacher Richard Jones guided the party through classrooms.
Richad Jones explained the role played by governors, their commitment to spend time in school and become familiar with the children. There were positive reactions from the visitors to the community use of the school andcuriosity about the role of the parent-teacher association.
"I noted that the headteacher was a member of all the sub-committees," said Michael Adoa, an assistant headmaster. "Because they do the work, they meet at home and submit reports - does the head have to be a member of all these?" "No, but it would be silly if they weren't," replied Richard Jones. "The head is a pivotal figure."
Decision-making lay with the governors, he added, but "an experienced headteacher will have things sorted out beforehand".
The commitment of governors was referred to over and over again - especially the lack of remuneration and the nearly universal absence of any expenses claims. Augustine Kamya, director of the Amka Classic School noted the professional attitude of governors.
"They are people with a particular job to do, if they do not perform, they look fools."
Michele Robbins counselled the guests that not every governing body was a buzz of activity and commitment. But Edreda Tuwangye replied that the Ugandan educators had come to see success stories: "We are more keen to see best practice - why should we come to see bad practice?" But politics is a tricky issue and the Ugandans found the traditional county hall carve-up of local authority governorships puzzling - especially since there seemed to be a general lack of political interference in how schools were run.
A key part of the agenda back home will be to establish national associations of governors. A hoped-for meeting with Chris Gale, chair of the National Governors' Council, could not take place but the visitors have been promised material on how NGC works nationally. Already they have discovered great benefits from setting up a private schools' association in representing their interests to the Ministry of Education.
Richard Jones was proudly showing off the garden in the playground at Hagbourne. The east Africans hunched themselves against the cold while absorbing everything they could about an unfamiliar system. They hope that the answers to their penetrating questions will serve Uganda's future school governors well.