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Teachers take off with pound;500

From the streets of the Bronx to a farm in Cameroon, an innovative school is paying staff to raise their game. Graeme Paton reports

For six days Simon Wells toured the violent, gun-soaked underbelly of New York, protected by a bodyguard. Crossing the Bronx, he was forced to dodge drug-dealers, prostitutes and gangs in sidewalks and back alleys. It sounds like a dangerous way for a geography teacher to spend his half-term holiday, but this is a taste of the extraordinary lengths to which staff at a Hampshire school are going to improve their performance.

Mr Wells is one of 67 teachers at Cranbourne business and enterprise college, in Basingstoke, given pound;500 a year to go the extra mile in the name of professional development.

One teacher will travel to Cameroon to work on a farm, researching a module on food production in undeveloped countries. Another will help rebuild, and forge links with, Sri Lankan schools. Mr Wells, who led a party of five teachers to New York during the February half-term, is writing a geography course on inner-city deprivation in the US.

"I have spent a lot of time teaching about countries and continents I have never visited," he said. "I saw so much in New York that I would never get the chance to on a professional development course in London."

He hired a guide - "someone I found on the internet who had grown up in the Bronx, could walk me round and make sure I wasn't mugged".

And Mr Wells saw first-hand the different migrant communities now settled in the inner-city and how hugely deprived areas were being redeveloped.

"I could have gone on a normal tourist sightseeing trip, but I wouldn't have seen what life is really like in areas like the Bronx," he said. "I can now bring that experience to life for children at my school and give them a picture of New York they don't see on the TV."

Another teacher spent a week in the US with young offenders, including teenagers convicted of drugs and violence offences, to learn about behaviour management.

A media studies teacher researched US newspapers and visited NBC's television studios to investigate a module on different media styles across the Atlantic.

Staff insist they are not simply blowing the school's budget on expensive foreign travel.

The five teachers on the five-day trip to New York each contributed pound;100 to cover expenses. All slept in two rooms at a budget hotel in Manhattan and trawled the internet for cheap flights, costing pound;400.

In all, the school has set aside pound;36,000 a year to spend on the training project which it claims offers a radical, and more productive, alternative to traditional courses or staff inset days.

Nick Fleeman, deputy head, said: "We believe our bursary scheme represents value for money."

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

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