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Trips abroad refresh staff

Visiting a school overseas can breathe new life into teachers if the school is similar to their own. Michael Shaw reports

Short visits to schools overseas are helping to refresh UK teachers and improve their classroom skills, research shows.

However, the study found that teachers were sometimes sent to schools which were so different from their own that the trips were of little practical use.

Up to 2,500 UK teachers a year go on visits via the Teachers' International Professional Development Programme, which receives pound;3 million a year from the Department for Education and Skills. The scheme pays for accommodation, food, flights and other travel during the trips, which last five days for visits to Europe, Africa and the Middle East or seven to Australia, America or Asia.

Trip organisers stress that they are not holidays and that staff face packed itineraries, visiting several schools and meeting local education officials. Teachers travel in small groups with others from their local authority and have to produce a brief report on how the schools tackle issues such as attendance or literacy.

A study published yesterday by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that 92 per cent of participants felt the project was a success and had led to a sense of professional refreshment. Improved morale was reported by 71 per cent and the same proportion said they felt it had raised their teaching skills.

But nearly a fifth of the participants said they did not think they had visited an appropriate school. "Participants from one school in a deprived area in the Midlands visited one of the richest schools in the wealthiest state in America," said the report. "Although the participants gained a great deal and it had a substantial positive impact within their schools, they felt that visiting a school in similar circumstances to their own would have been more beneficial."

Another teacher in the report said they had learned little of practical use on a trip to the Gambia. "The visit was quite simply a mismatch," the teacher said.

The national foundation researchers recommended that socio-economic data should be collected on the schools involved so they could be better matched in future. They also suggested teachers should visit a minimum of two and a maximum of four schools, after complaints from staff that they had either visited too many or had seen too few.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:

"It shows that by giving teachers opportunities to go abroad you can refresh and reinvigorate people who might otherwise leave the profession."

The programme is co-ordinated for the DfES by the British Council, the League for the Exchange of Commonwealth Teachers, the Best Practice Network and the Specialist Schools Trust.

"Evaluation of the Teachers' International Professional Development Programme" is at www.nfer.ac.uk. TIPD details: www.teachernet.gov.uktipd

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