Thank God it's Friday

2nd January 2004 at 00:00
Monday We arrive at the British Council offices in St Petersburg to be briefed about the Russian education system and to meet our hosts. The snow is thick and icy and my nine colleague UK heads and I wonder whether it was a wise decision to spend our half-term working on a study visit. But our hosts are charming and the language barrier melts when we realise that their English is as impressive as their welcome.

Tuesday My first day in school and, as I arrive, I notice that some of the children are mopping the floors. Can this be part of the citizenship curriculum? I observe several "public" lessons - maths and technology. The children are well-behaved and the teaching is lively and interactive. The teachers have made all of the resources, which reminds me of my earlier times in the classroom. At break I am introduced to the "angel keeper", an elderly woman who appears to take care of staff and children alike. She makes me tea.

Wednesday I am getting used to the extreme temperature changes between outside and inside - and all the disrobing and wrapping up ceremonies that take place for adults and children. The children are curious about me, but not as much as I had anticipated, and they seem not to notice when I keep taking photographs of them in class. The classes are small, but then this is a fee-paying school - unusual in St Petersburg. In the evening I am taken to the studio of a famous sculptor. He is a parent of two pupils and he and his wife invite me to stay for supper. Their relative wealth means they don't have to share their apartment with other families.

Thursday Today I've observed a chess lesson being taught to four and five-year-olds by a teacher who is an international chess master. It's spellbinding, even though I don't know how to play. Parents have come in to watch as well, though the head tells me they will be as interested in me as in their child's lesson. In the afternoon I go to the Marble Palace with a group of pupils for a lesson in fine arts. Such resources are enviable.

Friday Today I'm back with my English colleagues at the University of Pedagogical Skills, where we present a range of seminars to our Russian colleagues and other academics. My presentation focuses on the inclusion of citizenship in the primary curriculum. This provokes much debate, not least about how the Russian authorities might define a "good citizen". We are all relieved when the day is over, but sad to know that we have said goodbye to our new friends. We have the ballet and the Winter Palace to look forward to, but, more importantly, we look forward to strengthening links with the schools we've visited.

Nina Young is head of Farmilo primary school and nursery, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire

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