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World's heads converge on Cape Town

Avery African concept - that of "ubuntu", a Zulu proverb suggesting that a person is a person through other people - is the theme of the seventh world convention of the International Confederation of Principals, being held in Cape Town for five days from this Sunday.

Some 1,900 headteachers and deputies from around the globe will gather at the international convention centre to share ideas and best practice.

Based on previous conferences, local organisers, the South African Principals Association and the SA Heads of Independent Schools Association (SAHISA), were expecting 1,000 delegates and had to shift to a bigger venue to cope with demand.

The ICP, a global association of school leadership bodies with more than 30 members across five continents that represent 135,000 school leaders, is naturally delighted at the response, says its president David Wylde. He is also immediate past chairman of SAHISA, principal of St Andrews college in Grahamstown and the founder of the African Convention of Principals.

A primary purpose of ICP conventions, he says, is to facilitate international networking among principals that might also lead to meetings between their teachers and pupils, and to provide a forum for them to share expertise.

"The conventions are also a forum for council meetings and produce papers that have the moral authority of a world body. All the papers on ICP online also have input from leading principals around the world, with similar authority," says Wylde.

"Another purpose is to raise the profile of principals, and in Africa this will be hugely useful.

"South Africa's education department has subsidised a number of principals to attend who would otherwise never get to such a meeting because of costs."

The formal theme - Ubuntu: Humanity, Community, Responsibility - has an underlying theme of communication, collaboration and transformation. The daily themes are values and ethics, school and society, the developing child, whole curriculum, and leadership and responsibility.

The philosophy of "ubuntu" is that by caring about others we develop our own humanity, community and responsibility.

One current major concern internationally revolves around school autonomy: the degree to which headteachers are able to make decisions and run their schools. The theme of "ubuntu" will tackle how heads can use autonomy to extend schools' role in community building.

The five-day programmes include plenary sessions with renowned speakers, workshops, presentations, breakaway sessions and exhibitions.

Among the key speakers are South Africa's Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and education minister Naledi Pandor; the UK's Sir Michael Barber of the Office of the Prime Minister and the Bishop of Ramsbury, in Wiltshire, the Rt Reverend Peter Hullah; US psychologist Dr Michael Thompson, Professor Andy Hargreaves of Boston college's school of education and Dr Barry McGaw of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris.

Cape Town delegates will be invited to take part in co-ordinated research on the ways effective leaders unlock a child's potential and how values are communicated. Students will also be asked for information on, for example, how they were welcomed at school, and whether this matches with heads' own views of the way they welcome pupils.

The ICP steering group will collate the material to present their findings at the next ICP meeting in New Zealand in 2007, to help draw up a picture of what kind of leadership promotes values in schools and the wider community.

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