The British Council is the fairy godmother of leadership exchanges through its International Placements for Headteachers (IPH) scheme.
Heads apply to the council with a theme in mind and the council matches them up with schools and institutions overseas. It also facilitates the visits of the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) whose Global Online forum publishes reports on visits and enables heads to exchange experiences and views on their visits. It features contributions from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Middle East, India and the Czech Republic.
Examples of recent IPH-facilitated visits include a visit by 12 heads from England to Quebec schools through McGill university's Centre for Educational Leadership (CEL). They explored the qualities that enable visionary school leaders to "inspire, challenge and motivate". This led to the creation of an International Professional Learning Community.
"It provided a lens to look at leadership on a global perspective," says Sylvia Sklar of CEL. Quebec is now looking at setting up a similar programme for leadership exchanges on the British model. The IPH scheme also spurred an international leadership initiative in Uganda which is funding some 40 Ugandan heads, deputies and governors to visit the UK.
Leaders on the scheme are "cascading" leadership skills by training others.
IPH schemes can also include local education authority officials.
On February 10, headteachers from schools in Warrington, Halton and Wigan and three LEA officials visited schools in Soweto, South Africa. For many it was their first visit to the developing world and areas of informal settlements or extreme poverty. The visit was "unique and life-changing", says Graham Butler of Warrington LEA, who recommends the group approach.
"Setting up such visits can be very time-consuming, so it is important to have someone (like the British Council) to co-ordinate arrangements."
A dozen school leaders visited Nicosia in Cyprus where they were able to set up a half-day training session for heads on behaviour management.
Lesley Corbett, head of Carden primary, Brighton, says such visits can have a wider impact beyond the school. She was particularly interested in early modern foreign language teaching in Cyprus, where they learn English before they can write it by using song and dance. "I took what I'd seen in Cyprus to my MFL co-ordinator and we are now implementing some of these things in our own school," she says.
Other links are facilitated through the Specialist Schools Trust's international network, iNet, which matches the requests of its member schools to schools in Australia, Chile, China, the Netherlands and South Africa. Annual iNet conferences provide a means for leaders to come face to face and initiate or develop links.
"Without this, many links would wither and die," says Tony Bloxham, head of iNet Global.
The iNet conference in Cape Town in 2003 was the impetus for Helen Hyde, head of Watford grammar school for girls, to initiate links with two deprived schools in the Eastern Cape area, in particular to support their information and technology development and training. The Specialist Schools Trust will fund teacher visits if a link has been active for six months or more. While the NCSL also funds travel for heads. The British Council administers the Department for Education and Skills' Teachers' International Professional Development scheme and puts people in touch with funding for good quality long-term links via the Department for International Development's Global School Partnership scheme.
The trust's iNet scheme also organises online conferences to sustain the links. Their seven-day conference in February on leadership issues attracted 40,000 online participants worldwide.
The Specialist Schools Trust will hold its Celebrating Partnerships conference in Cape Town on July 14-15, 2005, to promote partnerships between specialist schools in England and South Africa.
Register for the NCSL 'talk to learn' global community via www.ncsl.org.uk