Hot and cold

1st April 2005 at 01:00
Godfrey Kiganga (pictured) takes the temperature at this year's SHA conference

It's snowing heavily as we depart Harrow for the annual Secondary Heads Association conference in Brighton. When I left my school in Njeru township, Jinja, Uganda, it was a sunny 30C. I've never experienced snow: such are the contrasts to be found in international exchanges.

I'm travelling with my old friend Kevin Riley, headteacher of John Lyon school, Harrow, with whom I am staying for some of my time in Britain. It is a privilege for me, a head of a school of disadvantaged children, to attend the conference. It is a learning experience for everybody, including policy-makers, and not just in terms of the weather. Those who address the plenary sessions learn from the audience. But not all the presentations are a success. Education Secretary Ruth Kelly may need a more thorough understanding of her subject to convince her audience. Certainly SHA's president, Tim Andrew, knows what his audience wants to hear and provides much food for thought. It's good to see a serving head set out such a coherent vision of the leadership required for schools in the 21st century.

The conference seminars are superb and the presenters inspirational. They help to develop my leadership skills, although it's good to know that I am already using the same methods as my UK colleagues.

It makes me realise that no one has a monopoly of knowledge and skills.

This annual gathering provides a centre of interaction and friendship. And it's fantastic that they invite participants from outside the UK: it gives a true international touch.

Of course it's not all work. My hosts insist on taking me for a "bracing" walk along the Brighton seafront in temperatures that might just hit zero.

Are the British in love with the cold? It seems so as the annual dinner is held in the coldest room in the hotel; by the end of the evening I have some understanding of the phrase "numb with cold". However, the dresses worn by the female delegates do not reflect this; what would they wear in my country, where the temperature rarely drops below 20C? And the ceilidh is a real experience; dancing is part of everyday life in Uganda, so I feel at home. Kilts are a new experience though - and in that cold weather!

For me the conference provides reassurance that many of the challenges we face as school leaders are the same; adequate resources are not always in evidence in either the UK or Uganda. The needs of the children come first and I am heartened to see the concern so many of my colleagues show for those entrusted to them. In Uganda we understand the importance of the extended family. The Aids epidemic means that many schools, mine especially, educate orphan children. SHA has enabled me to open minds and to make links; I even begin to understand the word cold. I will return to Uganda with renewed energy and a determination to make a difference.

Godfrey Kiganga is headmaster of Lords Meade college, Uganda. Email: lordsmeade@ yahoo.com; kigangamg@yahoo.com

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