You're the best, Malaysia tells England

5th June 2009 at 01:00
Their top teachers are sent here to learn from our education system and its inspiring leadership

English heads may consider themselves the most tested and stressed on the planet - but, according to one developing nation on a mission to reform its schools, the country is a hotbed of talent with the best leadership in the world.

Malaysia's best teachers are using the example of their English counterparts to improve their work as their government presses ahead with a major programme of educational reform, to be completed by 2020. Ministers there claim that England - along with New Zealand and Finland - is the system on which to model their new school leadership and management structures.

Headteachers in Malaysia have little autonomy - they cannot employ their own staff or manage budgets or even decide where they work - and they have expressed amazement at the relative freedom of their UK counterparts.

The reforms are part of the Vision 2020 programme, which the government believes will make Malaysia a world power. The Ministry of Education has awarded King's College London the contract to train the country's top headteachers.

The latest group of 30 to be trained arrived for a two-month stint in the UK last month. They will take masters modules at King's, meet eight "expert" heads and spend time in schools around the country. The course has already proved so successful that other developing countries such as India are also interested in taking part.

On their return to Malaysia, the heads have, for example, been inspired to increase the length of lessons from 40 minutes to one hour and open a "merit shop" where children who earn points for achievements can "buy" items such as stationery.

King's lecturer Bob Burstow said that it was sometimes difficult to work out "who is learning from whom" during the programme.

The Malaysian teachers were initially full of enthusiasm for some UK ideas such as using value-added scores to measure children's progress, but rejected this because they felt it failed to evaluate the important things in education - such as the way schools prepare pupils for adult life and the quality of music, drama or sport, which are compulsory in Malaysia.

"This course recognises the need to allow them an opportunity to drill below the surface to be able to form measured judgments about what aspects of UK school leadership should be usefully considered for adaptation and inclusion to the Malaysian system," Dr Burstow said.

Rahimah binti Mohd Sura, the head of a state residential school that takes children from poor rural areas, said: "I'm hoping to learn a lot of new ideas and how to work with school improvement partners as we are part of a new cluster."

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