Can youthful, musical agents re-shape an IB world school?

I spent a two year period abroad in Hong Kong teaching music in a semi subsidized international school (Lorway, 2010). The truly fascinating part is what happened to me as a teacher after I returned to my country of origin into my position at an IB international school on the east coast of Canada.

After re-entry, I became more aware of how young people deploy music to give voice to their beliefs and opinions about school and society in ways that can shape their school lives. When I re-entered Canada, I began to pursue a PhD program in Educational Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island, in an effort to critically examine practices in music education in public school settings which might assist young people to enhance those musical processes I believed to be already in place in their lives in and outside school.

I found that extensive research has been conducted examining the value of music education for students in public schools and possibilities for processes drawn from popular musicians to inform pedagogy for music educators (Cavicchi, 2009; Campbell, Connell, & Beegle, 2007; O’Neill, 2005; Green, 2008). As far back as seventeen years ago in my career in Canada, I became interested in the music making of young people in largely informal settings which appeared to be undisturbed by adults.

Similarly, when I taught music in Hong Kong about eight years ago, I observed how vital it was for students to continue the development of more independent learning through music making in school. In both Canada and Hong Kong, the young people with whom I worked embodied music much differently from how I had been taught in my Western music education pedagogy courses. How could I reflect such differences in my own teaching?

As part of my research project at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada, we developed an after-school song writing club in which we aimed to create music based upon the experiences, personal cultures, and preferences of the students. Once a week the group meets for two hours after school to write songs and plan performances to showcase their work to the general public. The students develop arrangements of cover songs written by various artists, as well as writing and performing their own songs arranged individually and in groups. In order to understand the music making processes of these young people, the challenge for me as the music teacher is to assist in nurturing an environment in which the young people can develop their musical ideas, while simultaneously stepping away to avoid interfering. This is no easy task while conducting research with young people at the intersection between informal and formal learning in and outside school.

The Ocelots

The Ocelots¹

However, I believe young people today are serious about developing new approaches in music education which are rooted in their own lives, sustainable, and can affect schools in very profound ways (Smyth, Angus, Down, & McInerney, 2008). As part of my own research, my guiding questions are: How can the beautiful musical insights created by young people in their own musical lives assist me in becoming a better collaborator; a better music teacher? Are these young people assisting me in becoming more socially conscious as a teacher? As these youthful, rich musical insights came from practices and processes students participate in their daily lives outside of school, I deduced early on that teaching and learning needed to be voiced from the perspective of young people.

Yelling in the Color Yellow

Yelling in the Color Yellow²

Thinking back over my years as a music educator of vocal and instrumental music has resulted in the realization that the music making of the young people with whom I work has had a major role in shaping my own practice. Trained to conduct traditional wind band and concert choir at the secondary level has certainly not been in vain, but seems to have taken a back stand to my real job as a music educator. Assisting young people to write, arrange, record, and perform original compositions and covers of artists of their choice, reminds me that young people have moved beyond the simple acquisition of musical skill. I often wonder if these young people have a deep seated sense of social responsibility which comes to the surface in a musical environment where pedagogy is conceived as a collaboration between teacher and student (Smyth, 2011).

If so, what insights can we draw from their musical performances and music making to better inform us about practices in music education, or in other disciplines? What will our schools sound like and look like with the insertion of youthful insights into our pedagogies; informed by the expertise young people have in their own worlds which they choose to share with the school and greater community?

If voiced from the perspective of young people themselves, I believe changes in teaching and learning can be lasting, and not only a phase or fad. I believe young people can impact change in public schools through music. At least, this is what I am hearing in an IB world school in eastern Canada…

Verne LorwayVerne Lorway is a music educator currently employed with the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board in Nova Scotia, Canada, and a PhD Candidate in Educational Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. Her work examines the development of youth agency and social justice frameworks through music making in educational contexts. You can reach Verne at


1 and 2: These photos have been approved by the students and their parents for scholarly purposes through the University of Prince Edward Island Research Ethics Board and the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board.


Campbell, P., Connell, C., & Beegle, A. (2007). Adolescents’ expressed meaning of music in and out of school. Journal of Research in Music Education, 55(3), 220–236.

Cavicchi, D. (2009). My music, their music, and the irrelevance of music education. In T.A. Regelski & J.T. Gates (Eds.), Music education for changing times: Guiding visions for practice (pp. 97-107). New York: Springer.

Green, L. (2008). Music, informal learning and the school: A new classroom pedagogy. Hampshire: Ashgate.

Lorway, V. (2010). Revelations of a Canadian arts educator in the Far East. Retrieved from:

O’Neill, S.A. (2005). Youth music engagements in diverse contexts. In J.L. Mahoney, R.W. Larson, & J.S. Eccles (Eds.), Organized activities as contexts of development: Extracurricular activities, after-school and community programs (pp. 255-273). New Jersey: Taylor & Francis.

Smyth, J. (2011). Critical pedagogy for social justice. New York: Continuum.

Smyth, J., Angus, L., Down, B., & McInerney, P. (2008). Critically engaged learning: Connecting to young lives. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Written by Verne Lorway, a music educator currently employed with the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Why I skipped the country to teach overseas

So, why did I skip the country and teach overseas?

I needed air!  I needed a change.  I had been in the same area for 17 years and felt suffocated, although I enjoyed my job and felt wanted and appreciated at the same time.

My first overseas posts were in the Middle East.  I went to the United Arab Emirates and I was plunged into a school of 2,000 + pupils from being a kingpin in a school of 250, and I loved it!  The kids in my class ranged from 9-13 years old.  They were supposed to be 9-10 year olds, but what the heck!  That first year felt like being on holiday all of the time.  I loved Monday mornings.

Why?  Because it was the middle of the week and the weekend began on Thursday!  Okay, so we worked Saturday and Sunday, but that was simply novel and not arduous.  The facilities in the school were excellent and were there to use – an Olympic size swimming pool, with only me in it and a vast sports hall for any activity you cared to indulge in!

Elaine Crawford on a Honda

Elaine Crawford on a Honda

What do I remember most?  I think of the calls to prayer echoing out over the city, the scenery and the food.  I love Indian food and there is stacks of it.  I love Arabic food and there it is to indulge in.  If you want it, of course you can get European food – just head off to Spinney’s supermarket and you can cook your own!

My second post was in Kuwait.  That was straight after the Gulf War of the 1990s and that was a shock.  The destruction and devastation were unbelievable.  The oil wells were still burning until the Russians found out how to blow out the flames.  The school was a delight and the children were just gorgeous.  I think that was the best year of my life.

I went to Hong Kong after that.  Did I like it?  Well, I stayed for 17 years and I wept when I left.  Yes, I really did enjoy it so much.  It was hard work, long hours, plenty of paper work, parent evenings and reports.  Just like everywhere really!

So what matters?  What makes a difference?  Well, the answer is you.  It is your attitude that counts, your application, your acceptance of responsibilities.  Work hard and you can also play hard.  Take the opportunities as they come.  It is a new home, so don’t expect the same – just enjoy the differences!

Elaine Crawford trained at Bingley Yorkshire, ages ago, and lived in the Yorkshire Dales until she got itchy feet.  She always loved the outdoors and sports and went as an assistant leader with the Anglo Austrian Society to Austria whilst at college.  This prompted her to take school parties walking the highways and byways and the Three Peaks in Yorkshire.  She took groups on Youth Hostelling trips in Britain, Belgium, Holland, Germany and France.  Later she branched out and went cycling and camping with parties in Britain, The United Arab Emirates and China.  She is currently dividing her time between the UK and Thailand.

Written by Elaine Crawford, who has spent much of her career working overseas, first in the Middle East and then for many years teaching in Hong Kong. She has also taught in Tanzania and, most recently, Azerbaijan.

The three main challenges of working abroad

By means of a simple introduction, I am an English teacher, aged 31 who moved this year from Manchester, UK to Dubai, UAE, having never set foot in the Middle East before.  I must also mention that, although this piece reflects some negative aspects of teaching abroad, on the whole it is an amazing experience, which leaves me with no regrets.  You can only fully get to know a culture after living there for one or two years – if you’ve only been a tourist for one or two weeks that’s not enough!

English teacher, aged 31It must be said that everything I will say depends fully on (a) which country you mean by ‘abroad’ and (b) how you are, i.e. the old cliché of crisis and opportunity being two sides of the same coin.  I would also add that I am a minor veteran of overseas life – my first ever teaching job being on no other than the Isle of Man, and at some point having also spent two years teaching at an International School in Helsinki, Finland.

The first challenge I will describe is the poisoned chalice of bureaucracy.  Again this depends on where you go, but be prepared for draconian measures, such as blood tests, chest X-rays, finger-printing, palm prints, iris scans, in short – the works.  This comes after you have provided a signed letter from each of your previous employers confirming the dates that you worked at their school.  Sounds simple?  We’re talking dozens of emails!  The list continues… a transcript of your PGCE certificate from the University, and do make sure your qualifications have been fully ‘attested’ (this involves a solicitor, the foreign office, mingled with a dollop of cash, waiting and stress).  But I’m going to an EU country you cry!  Well, still be prepared for puzzling visits to the Magistrates, the local police et al.  On the bright side, your school will be experienced in this, and will help you along the way.
Next, I would say the second biggest challenge is simply adapting.  There will be a myriad of things which are different to your home country, laws, social mores etc.  Logistically, being in a new environment gives challenges to your daily life at the beginning.  You need to visit the doctor, but firstly there may be several things to think about: Where is the surgery? How do you make an appointment? Who do you see? (There may be few GPs and many various specialists) Have I got my health insurance yet?  Is this covered?  How much will medicine cost me?  Etc…  You may even find that your routine medication from back home is not authorised in the new country (yes it happened to me!).  There may also be impassible boundaries placed in your way.  My first wage was paid into my new bank account, but I couldn’t withdraw money as the bank would not give my bank card over without my producing my passport / an ID card.  You guessed it – the passport was with the embassy, and had been for several weeks, whilst waiting for said ID to materialise.  “It’s no problem,” said the bank.  “Just come into the branch and we’ll hand you cash.”

“You’ll hand me cash, without me having ID?”

“No ma’am, you will need your ID.”


Again, the school will help you.  And there will be new colleagues sharing in your commiseration whilst you bond over such small-scale catastrophes.

Thirdly comes the challenge of isolation.  Away from friends and family, you will have to build new relationships and friendships.  Personally, I think this is a great opportunity, but again there may be some practical limitations.  At first you may not have the internet.  You may not have a TV, sofa, the majority of your personal items – and you may not have a car.  In some countries, getting set up with these things may take a while.  For a start, you are not likely to be flush with cash straight away, particularly as you might be waiting for a refund of your flight ticket etc, but also you may need residency to even be able to get the internet and a driving license.  Living in a bare shell without transport, possessions, and no friends – that’s isolating!  Bear in mind also if you go somewhere where you can’t understand the language, it can get to you after a while.  OK, you can survive, but that may not be enough for you.
My goodness, I haven’t even mentioned the teaching!  There will be a new curriculum to get to grips with, and you will need to look beyond the Sceptred Isle to thinking of literature, history, geography etc in a more internationally-minded less ethnocentric way – as far as this is possible.  Personally, yes, a new way of teaching is a challenge, but it is also a breath of fresh air and after all ‘a change is as good as a rest.’  You may find you and your teaching to be reinvigorated as a result.

To close, you will notice that these three main challenges will face you most at the beginning of your sojourn.  The beginning may also be the time when you have the most energy, enthusiasm and excitement.  So, my friends, after the honeymoon period the rot can set in, be prepared for a rollercoaster ride and the world’s your oyster.  And on the plus side, you can look forward to the holiday of your dreams, you guessed it, coming back to the UK after several months and telling your tall tales to all and sundry really is the icing on the cake.  Enjoy.

Written by Rachel Oxley, an English teacher in Dubai, UAE

Getting the most out of the IB

‘Is teaching in IB World schools different from teaching in government schools?’ is the first question that may arise in the mind of a person about to embark on this journey. The story below is going to suffice your inquisitive mind with a simple answer for this compelling question! No, it is not. It requires open-mindedness to understand and embrace different cultures.

Getting started

I started teaching seven years ago. My first job was as an English language teacher in a local (government) school, but it did not last as long as I would wish. My career path veered and I joined the international community of IB World Schools in Southeast Asia, Singapore. This is when I started teaching English in international schools.

I still remember my first day in a truly multinational and multicultural school. In my classroom, I had students who represented six different countries; Taiwan, China, Japan, France, the United States, Thailand and Indonesia. Whilst teaching in such a diverse classroom, a teacher is likely to encounter problems of how to create a common ground to make sure that learning takes place. However, the other side of the coin is quite different –  expert teachers should not look for a common ground, instead, they should embrace different cultures and create a companionable setting to work in.

IB students

This is what I have done in the multiple international classrooms where I have worked as a homeroom teacher. I always tell my students, “We all are humans and we need to appreciate our common humanity while recognising our differences.”

Curricula at IB World Schools

The curricula at IB World Schools allows you to design lessons that will help you draw students in. Both the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) and Middle Years Programme (MYP) and  curricula give teachers generic guidelines that allow them to design units where students learn to build emotional connections with the taught materials.

One such unit that I have designed was called “people around the world” within the MYP curriculum. In this unit, students learned all about different traditions, costumes, cuisine, beliefs and religions. At the end of the unit students were asked to come to school in their traditional costumes and act as ambassadors for their countries,  all of whom were invited to share lunch.

Students not only learned about different cuisines but they also had a discussion about the significance of peace in our ever-more global world. Such activities are essential as they bring practice into the classroom, and the IB provides the impetus to get started.

Making school a community of practice

Students learn better when they are given opportunities to apply their skills in the real world.  And, again the IB provides the best starting point for this.

In one of the units for Social Science class, students in my homeroom base learned about different government systems around the world. From all of the different government systems, students chose democracy as the best. Later on in the unit, students developed a small government and a constitutional draft that would help them keep their system organised.  As we concluded the unit, my young co-investigators took pleasure and pride in thinking of themselves as ‘experts in expertise.’

“Teaching in IB World Schools broadens your horizons as a teacher by inviting you to embrace different cultures and create a learning environment for students from different cultural backgrounds.” Remind yourself of this statement before getting started at what you do the best!
IB colleagues

About the author

Armine Abrahamyan has been involved in Foreign/Second Language teaching (EFL, ESL) for seven years. She spent the first year of her career teaching both English and German in local high schools in Armenia, Yerevan City.

Since 2008, Armine has taught many subjects and courses in English – from basic ESL at Primary Grade 1 to Grade 6, Middle School Science, MYP Language B (English), International Science, History of Asian Civilization (India, China and Southeast Asia), Primary 1, 2 and 3 English and Social Science, as well as Science and World History and General Paper courses to high school students.

Armine is currently a faculty member at NPS International School in Singapore.

Written by Armine Abrahamyan, a faculty member at NPS International School in Singapore.

Moving overseas with a family

My two year old’s future was bright. He would attend an International School, learn Thai and Mandarin, complete an International Baccalaureate and maybe go on to either a US or UK university. We would save money and enjoy trips to Koh Samet every other weekend.

I did not think about some of the more pressing issues such as nappies and food, nor did I think about pushing around prams and negotiating public transport and letting agents.

We moved to Thailand in August 2012. It was a decision that took months in the planning and interviewing stage and a split-second in the packed up and gone stage. In hindsight, I should have conducted a little more research into the new lifestyle ahead of us. The Thai phrase of ‘mai pen rai’ which literally translates as ‘don’t worry about it’ is deeply embedded in Thai culture but we Brits require a little more preparation and planning.

If you are moving abroad with your family, here are the things I should have known beforehand.

Housing and costs

Research the cost (and process) of renting a home. In Thailand, it is common for you to provide two months deposit and one month in advance. You should always research the area surrounding your school and ask your school to recommend some places to live and approximate prices. We found it varied hugely between developments and some developments had no local shops and were miles back to the main roads.

Negotiate your rent and the items you do or don’t want in the house. Check with people at school as to whether it is a good price for the area.

If you require the services of a nanny or medical care, ask the other teacher-parents at your school, I found they were the most helpful with their answers even down to which cable package was best to go for.

Check your contract

Sounds silly but make sure you know  what your contract contains such as who is covered by medical insurance and who isn’t. If your spouse or child aren’t, then ask your school to add them to your policy.

Make sure you have the correct visas on arrival and check with your local consulate for the up to date information. Ask your school who is responsible for your family’s visa – you’ll be surprised at how vastly different the policy is from school to school. Some do not pay for your visas, some only pay for yours and not your dependent or spouse.

Do some research into ex-pat jobs and fields especially if your spouse is not a teacher and intends to work – the Thai labour laws can be difficult to negotiate. Any company wishing to hire foreign staff must prove the post can not be filled by a national. They also must hire 4:1 Thai to Ex-pats.

Also, does your school provide flights or free school places? Take this into consideration when negotiating pay. Flights back to the UK can be especially expensive as can school fees even if reduced to 50%.

Ask when your first pay day is, you may find it is 6 weeks away. Finding your feet in the first few weeks can be exorbitantly expensive.

Travelling with children

julia-and-childThe public transport system is not geared up for buggies and pushchairs and the pavements of Bangkok are often crowded with vendors and inappropriately placed street furniture. However, if your little one is too big for a sling or carrier then brave it. Using the overhead crossings can be a bit tricky as they usually have no lift or escalator. Maybe consider downsizing your buggy to the very handy Backpack Stroller especially if you plan to island hop around Thailand.

Buying and renting cars in Bangkok is expensive. Taxis are inexpensive and numerous but whether the capricious cabbie will take you where you want to go is another matter. If they do, insist on the meter being used at all times and be prepared that none of the taxis have seatbelts for you or your child. And definitely learn the words left, right, slow down and stop. Ask someone at your school to write your address in Thai so you can show the driver.

What to bring with you

If you do have a little one then bring enough nappies and baby wipes to last you a few weeks. They are readily available in most 7/11s but it’s one less worry for you when you are house hunting/starting new jobs etc.

If you are worried about your child eating the local food, bring your child’s favourite brand of things such as cereal or baby food as they do taste a little different. We found that our little one’s pallet soon adjusted to the food and he has a good appetite for the local cuisine. He loves going to the market and spotting the different fruit and vegetables. There are western supermarkets but they are expensive compared to the local markets and stalls.

Jars of baby food are available, however, the ingredients are not always in English so for your own peace of mind it is definitely worth investing in a blender and making your own.

If your baby is still using a bottle, cup or dummies then bring some extra ones as the shops tend not to stock western brands. The ones stocked are not as robust as the ones you may be used to.

I brought a selection of books and favourite toys with us, most airlines will let you check extra baggage in on-line at a much cheaper rate saving the agonising decisions of what not to bring.

Family life

julia-child-playingAfter a few weeks, we were settled and I bought ‘What can we do today? Kids in Bangkok‘. It’s a selection of activities which on a weekend we select at random and head off to do. We have visited the zoo, a water park and even been ice-skating – discovering that Bangkok has a lot more on offer for families than it at first appears.

Thai people love children and you will find them welcome all over and in places you might not expect too. Expect people to pick them up and offer them treats and gifts. When you relax in the knowledge that there is no Health and Safety and that rules no longer apply, just enjoy it. Mai pen rai.

Some helpful websites

Written by Julia Knight-Williams, a Curriculum, Planning and Pastoral Delivery KS Coordinator at a Preparatory School in Thailand. Follow Julia on twitter.

School Christmas Venezuelan style

Of course our Christmas celebration is school related. It makes me realize that there is seamlessness to one’s personal/school life here in Venezuela. They are interconnected, unlike back in the States, where we seem to like keeping them separated, compartmentalized, as if students and school staff have two different identities depending on the setting.

Dolores, English Director and her familyAs big as Halloween was here at Pablo Romero Millan (PRM), the coming of Christmas celebration is even bigger and much early preparation goes into the holiday revelling to come.

Teachers and students have begun decorating their classrooms in preparation for Christmas. Rich reds, greens, and golds are ubiquitous on the small private school campus. One classroom even has a manger scene with Joseph, Mary and Jesus on a bulletin board. Try that back in the United States, where public schools have all but abandoned a celebration of the holidays, afraid of offending some and/or incurring a lawsuit.

Joe, Alicia, and Susie Clovis, parents of 3 of our studentsAlicia and I have been a bit like two of the three wise men, following that star to the promise land. It’s here on Island of Margarita. There’s a heightened happiness that we exude at school each day. Yes, learning is getting done, but we’re all looking at the bigger, holiday picture.

It’s the last days of school here at PRM, a couple of weeks before Christmas day; they announce themselves with an all-embracing holiday magic. Everyone is excited. It’s bitter sweet for Alicia and me, as we’ll be off to Heredia, Costa Rica soon. At this point, staff and students know that Alicia and I are planning on relocating to Costa Rica.

Joe's StudentsThis holiday season, each teacher is in charge of organizing their students to decorate their own classrooms, inside and out. For common areas of the school, students, staff, and parents volunteer their efforts.

There’s a contest for holiday decorations and Alicia’s fifth grade class wins a prize for their door decoration.In my 4th grade classroom, we create on the back wall a fireplace with stockings that are individually decorated by each student, who glue them around the fireplace, which is made with lots of red construction paper. The 3rd grade students decide to have a huge tree on their door that they then decorate with ornaments that they make themselves.

Holiday bulletin boardIt’s priceless how pretty the school becomes over a week’s time. It’s transformed into a winter wonderland. Of course finals are given and grades are due. Teacher duties along with holiday planning go hand in hand.

All of the holiday preparations lead up, crescendo like, to the last day of school before the Christmas break. There is a big concert on a wood stage, built specially for this party. My 4th grade students dance and sing Frosty the Snowman, while the third graders perform another holiday classic in Spanish. Alicia’s classes sing a John Lennon favorite, Happy Christmas (War is Over).

Joe's StudentThe students are all dressed in red t-shirts and Santa hats. On the basketball court are folding chairs galore with parents and other family members in attendance. There is fabulous food, lots of local Venezuelan dishes, with lots of sugar-plum fairy type desserts, and endless bottles of sugary pop for all to indulge in.

When the day is done, Alicia and I help other staff with cleanup. We’ve already said goodbye to our students, many of whom have already gone home with their parents to begin their own family celebrations of the holidays. They are happy that there is no school for weeks to come.

We check out our small classroom, still decorated, one last time. We say goodbye to our teacher friends and walk to the bus holding wrapped presents that some of our students gave us, knowing that this will be the last time we take the bus home from school here on the Island of Margarita.

Joe Haviland is a New Yorker, one of eleven children, with a B.A. in journalism from New York University and an MSEd in Elementary Education from University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. Married to Alicia Frank Haviland. Both Joe and Alicia have taught internationally at schools on the Island of Margarita, Venezuela, in Heredia, Costa Rica, and in Miramar Mexico.

Visions of Venezuela bookAfter Mrs. Haviland graduates with a B.A. in Secondary Education from the University of New Mexico this month, the two will be teaching internationally again. They are currently investigating teaching opportunities on all seven continents. This is an extract from the penultimate chapter of Joe’s book, Visions of Venezuela

Written by Joe Haviland

Another world – teaching overseas in the 1970s

It had to be a girls’ school, whites only! This was South Africa in 1972 when apartheid was at its fiercest. I had reasonable English qualifications – a 2.1 degree from the University of North Wales in History and English and a year’s training diploma. I felt armed to teach the world! Johannesburg was another world. Nobody could help me begin as I was viewed as a foreigner. There was no TES or online services like Teacherhorizons so where to apply seemed a mystery.

It was only at a party when I mentioned my dilemma that I was told to go direct to the Ministry of Education in Pretoria. Several months of heavy paper-work followed as everything had to be delivered by hand. Cafes did not seem to exist in 70’s Pretoria so we always had took flask to drink coffee on the steps of the ominously looming Voortrekker monument.

Six months later – all the qualifications accepted – I was offered a post at Johannesburg High School for Girls in Hillbrow. I had not passed my driving test so it would be an hour’s journey on two buses. I was really scared of waiting in the wrong queue for the wrong bus, but this would be impossible.

Aparteid schoolLarge signs declared ‘Whites Only’ or ‘Blacks, Bantu, Coloured Only’ so there could be no mistake. ‘Whites Only’ queues had only 2 or 3 people waiting whilst the “others” were packed with an ill-sorted crowd of women wearing woolly berets with babies on their backs and men in ill-fitting jackets or uniforms ready for their menial jobs. I could not possibly be in the wrong place – even the park benches had white painted signs on them in large print ‘ SLEGS VIR BLANKES’.

School began at 8am with Assembly. Teachers had to be there on the stage in full view. The girls wore a white tunic dress, black blazer with pink binding and black lace-up shoes. Variations did not occur. They were extremely polite and formal. I was teaching History and English. History lessons became increasingly difficult as the rest of the world’s history was of no interest – only South African history was on the curriculum. This emphasised the importance of the Great Trek of 1835 when Dutch Protestant settlers forced their way into the interior of the Southern Africa ruthlessly crushing the tribes such as the Xhosa, Zulus and Ndebele who stood in their way. A white South African teacher had to present an entirely biased account of this event as described in great detail in the text books. No other material was allowed in class. In fact this very biased approach to History led to my teaching more English which could be better manipulated to broaden the minds of my pupils.

In my two years teaching there I grew to like the girls. They were in awe of my mini-skirts and varying coloured nail varnish – a product of the swinging sixties! There were no discipline problems as they were too regimented to rebel. They had no lunch-breaks -only short breaks before going home at 2pm so they did not socialise much in school-time. My favourite lessons were my English library lessons where I collected a small amount of Rand from each pupil and they took it in turns to buy a book of their choice. Every month we had an informal chat in groups about the books they had been reading and this did seem to break down some of the rigidity of pupils sitting in rows of desks putting their hands up to ask a question. I even managed to sneak in the odd poem by a black South African author which I was trying to collect and hope to make them realise that life was not just “whites only.”

DrakensbergOne of the great advantages of school finishing early was that my husband working shifts could sometimes collect me on a Friday and we could drive to freedom – Swaziland, Mozambique or Lesotho to see the beautiful mountain scenery of the Drakensburg, eat fresh prawns by the sea in Lourenco Marques and relax amongst the colourful tribespeople over the border.

What a surprise to be told we were being transferred to Saigon. When informed my reply was “I’ve always wanted to go to China!” showing my lack of geographical and historical knowledge. Especially as Vietnam was THE story of the sixties, being torn between the North and the South – the Americans losing troops disastrously trying to hold back the Communist tide. However we were being sent there as a couple because the general feeling was that the Americans were successfully handing over the reins to the South Vietnamese. This was 1974.

I tried to improve my French at the Alliance Francaise as learning Vietnamese seemed too daunting. There I met Madame Pho from the Buddhist University who gave me an introduction for an interview to teach English. They could pay my taxi fare but no salary. The taxi each way would be less than £1.

SaigonI was to teach or lecture on ‘The History of English Literature’ and on a Friday afternoon, conversational English. My arrival caused a stir as I was ‘the real thing” – a genuine English accent rather than American twang. When I walked into the classroom I entered a fancy-dress parade – soldiers in khaki, naval uniforms, teenagers in fashionable jeans and American slogan T shirts, girls in traditional ao-dai, long silk tunics with slits to the waist above black silk pyjama-like trousers. They all lined up their shoes and sandals to enter the classroom. The only teaching aid was white chalk – the only visual aid “myself”.

The students took copious notes and their English seemed reasonable until we came upon titles such as D.H.Lawrence’s “The Rainbow” – no use explaining subtleties of relationships. I had to draw on the board what was a rainbow without coloured chalk of course.

The conversation classes proved quite challenging as 70 students crammed into a small classroom only kept bearable from the afternoon heat by one whirring overhead fan. I was given a list of topics to discuss and tried to divide the class into groups although 10 in a group is far too many. One topic “Holidays” was a failure – nobody had spare dollars, visas were required to leave the country, some were waiting to be called up for military service. If they could only get to France they would escape the nightmare of war on their own doorstep. They were not planning a holiday – they would not return!

I tended to wear long skirts in keeping with Buddhist codes of decency. Leaving the blue and yellow taxi with no air conditioning I gingerly stepped into the alley leading to our flat, lifting my skirts to avoid the splashes of urine, squashed fruit and vegetables, even rats running out of the wooden crates where some families huddled at night. There was a midnight curfew when the streets suddenly became eerily quiet and you stayed put behind barred doors at your peril.

Mid-April 1975. Little did we know Saigon had been infiltrated by a large army of communist supporters – North and South Vietnamese look exactly the same, only with different opinions – many were digging in along tunnels leading almost to the centre of Saigon. The streets became much quieter – fewer bikes, cycles, taxis, mopeds and cars, I did not know it was my last visit to the Buddhist University and I never said goodbye. I hope not too many of my students were killed when the North Vietnamese swarmed into the city.

I myself was airlifted by the New Zealand Air Force to Singapore. I grabbed my tennis racquet and sewing machine (always regretted not taking my photo albums) before piling in with the other evacuees boarding the Bristol freighter. My husband left by helicopter two weeks later when Saigon was taken over by the North Vietnamese.

EthiopiaOur next posting sounded like heaven, “Utopia.” It was in fact Ethiopia! This was in 1976 when Colonel Mengistu was ruthlessly enforcing his “ongoing revolution.” Foreigners were not very welcome, basic foods were in short supply and there was a midnight curfew.

Again through word of mouth I was offered a job teaching English at General Wingate Secondary School. I plucked up courage to enter a small dingy classroom crammed with over eighty pupils not knowing a word of English. I noticed the girls’ intricately braided hairstyles, the holey sweaters and complete lack of writing materials, and admitted defeat. I was saved by the British Council offering me a job as Educational Assistant in charge of administrating the G.C.E. exams still being held at two or three schools, the occasional local pupil gaining a scholarship to England, and best of all organising a Shakespeare production or art exhibition. Only I had tickets so was much sought after in the culture-starved capital of Addis Ababa.

Sadly these were curtailed one by one as being examples of “Western decadence” and not furthering “the great cause.” It was several months later the three Western journalists remaining in Addis (including my husband) were given 48 hours to leave the country. I moved to a friend’s house for safety’s sake, packed up our “used household effects”, said goodbye to a reduced British Council staff and took the flight to Nairobi just before the airport closed.

Written by Maggie Toye

The beginning of a change for teaching unions?

Edapt is a new, independent, apolitical social enterprise in the UK that supports, protects, informs and develops the teaching profession. It aims to provide teachers with an alternative to teaching unions. Here, edapt director of policy, Emma Whitehead, considers whether a similar model could be useful in other countries around the world.

Emma Whitehead

A couple of years ago, I attended a meeting at which the then newly appointed Secretary of State for Education was speaking to a group of teachers about what his priorities should be. At several points in this meeting, suggestions for reform made by teachers were met with the response from other teachers that ‘the unions would never allow it.’

This brought back to me frustrations from my own experiences of teaching, when staffroom politics could be more stressful than the teenage quarrels among pupils and could put an end to conversations about potentially positive change. When pupils became aware of tensions between their teachers, and the union influence on this, I became concerned about the culture we were creating for them.

John Roberts started investigating an alternative to unions in 2010, as an offer for teachers who wanted a different way of conducting themselves – both with policy makers and in schools. After two years of development, including commissioning independent research from LKMCo exploring what teachers think of their unions, edapt launched in 2012, and I came on board as Director of Policy.


The research suggests that teachers join unions mainly for protection against allegations or employment disputes, and that 24% of teachers would prefer not to be in a union if there were alternative support available. edapt provides teachers with a choice as to where they get their support and protection, and ensures that it is professional, expert and impartial. My aim is to ensure that the experiences of our teachers can be fed into policy and that teachers can take part in policy debates as professionals.

There is a particular context to this need for edapt in this country, and the timeline of the development of the teaching profession, (on our Facebook page) shows that there is a long history of teachers trying to define their status. The fact that the most thriving remaining organisations for teachers are the unions suggests that historically, teachers’ identity as workers in need of a union has dominated over their identity as professionals. This creates a dynamic in which teachers are defined by their status as employees of the government, and the aims of education are increasingly defined by the employer.  As a history teacher, I am particularly aware of the legacy of the trade union movement on our political context – and grateful for the employee rights and social change we all owe it. It is because of this history that it is a difficult but important line to tread to remain a-political, while still making the suggestion to teachers that if they don’t want to join a union, they don’t have to. It would be interesting to understand how the different histories of the profession around the world, and a different link between unionism, teaching and politics, has created a different dynamic.

Teachers are of course employees, and they should feel confident that their right to collectively bargain is respected, but perhaps in order for them to take ownership of the profession, this needs to stop being their defining feature. I consider myself to be a teacher even though I am not currently employed by a school – in the same way that a doctor may consider themselves a doctor, regardless of whether they are currently treating patients as an employee. I hope that edapt will allow teachers to feel confident enough that their existing rights as employees are protected, that they are free to establish a positive professional identity that can work constructively with policy makers and other professions.


It is important that creating this choice isn’t perceived as a political act in itself, but is understood as it is intended – to be offering a choice, in order to improve the working lives of teachers and ultimately the quality of education our young people receive. Having been a teacher and having now worked in a number of other organisations, I am aware of the mismatch between the level of support needed, and the level available to teachers. To take just one example of working time: in most jobs, you’re either working or you’re not, but in teaching, you can be teaching, using ‘PPA time’ (planning, preparation and assessment time), ‘directed time’ for parents evenings, or marking from home. Yet while in most jobs, employees know who to ask if they have a question about their contract, many teachers have no idea who supplies their HR services, or have never met their legal employer – which in the UK may  be the governors, the local authority or an academy trust. Teachers need impartial and expert advice, and yet most pay for access to union volunteers who have an interest in using individual cases for collective bargaining. It would be interesting to hear how this differs in different countries.

A number of teachers we’ve met have said that the edapt model could be replicated internationally – particularly in the US, where this map shows the strength of teaching unions.  Teachers who have experience of working in other countries and international schools could have a useful perspective on the extent to which the current unions in this country are representative of the teaching profession. They may have different insights into whether teachers should have a choice as to whether to join a union, and how this choice can be offered without being seen to undermine the positive intentions of unions to promote employee rights. Should teachers feel they need to be protected at all?  Are there other countries that could benefit from an organisation like edapt?

If you’d like to find out more about edapt, please visit

Written by Emma Whitehead, edapt director of policy

The IB’s struggle to gain deep roots in the UK state system

international-baccalaureate-logoThe International Baccalaureate has become the dominant choice of curriculum for international schools now.  The IB Primary Years Programme is experiencing unprecedented growth as parents demand for their children to undertake an inquiry based learning soars.  The uptake of the IB in the US is on the rise, as is the demand for IB education in UK private schools.  So, why is the number of British state schools offering the IB decreasing?

Student & teacher difficulties

international-baccalaureate-subject-groupsThe IB is a more demanding curriculum for students than the UK A Level system.  Fact.  Students frequently take double the number of subject and it frequently stated that the difficulty of questioning in exams is more challenging too.  For example, IB Higher Level Maths (one of the six subjects a student may be learning) is often compared to studying A Level Maths plus A Level Further Maths (2 of the 3/4 subjects an A Level student would be studying).  On top of the six subjects, students are expected to undertake a number of core components including a University style Extended Essay, a Duke of Edinburgh style Creativity Action Service (CAS) programme as well as studying Theory of Knowledge, widely acclaimed as being THE most challenging subject to both teach and learn.   It must also be pointed out that whilst A Levels have no doubt become easier (ask any experienced teacher!), the more independently monitored IB has not changed their standards.

The IB also demands much more of a teacher’s time than the IB does.  Coursework in the IB is significant component of virtually all subjects and large parts of it are teacher assesses (and moderated by IB moderators).  Given the priorities in many UK state schools lie with the 11-16 age groups, teachers are inclined to focus their attention and energies on delivering in these groups, the ones they are ultimately judged on.  Teacher training courses and a reflective approach to teaching often mean that teachers neither have the time or the tools to do a proper job when it comes to delivering the IB.  Subject knowledge can be an issue here too, finding teachers capable of teaching IB Higher Level Maths or Physics is particularly challenging.

Mind the GAP

Whilst international schools and many private schools are opting to take IGCSEs, the more traditional international GCSEs or even the IB Middle Years Programme, UK state schools offer the national GCSE programme.  The jump in academic rigour between GCSEs and the IB is simply enormous.  Whilst it is possible for schools to achieve excellent GCSE results through exam practice and spoon feeding, this is simply not possible at IB level where independent learning it a must in order to achieve 30 points plus.  Schools that have implemented the IB have often paid very little attention to this gap and suffered diabolical consequences when it comes to results.


The Maths are relatively simple.  Not only is enrolling an IB student for the course considerably more expensive that enrolling an A Level student.  An A Level students studies around 3 subjects and will attend 3 classes, an IB teacher requires 6 different subject teachers.  Whilst the number of lessons isn’t double, the IB places real timetabling demands on schools and means that a greater number of taught hours per student are required.  This often means considerably higher running costs of offering the IB.  With schools’ budgets being squeezed, it often appears an obvious area to cut, especially when the uptake by students is relatively low.

University entrance

oxfordUniversities in the UK have made big efforts to embrace the IB through creating conversion tables and at least in theory, heavily favouring the IB.  The truth of the matter is that whilst they favour students with great IB scores and even sometimes those with low ones, the majority in the middle will find it easier to get on a good course in a good university by studying A Levels.  Universities may use the conversion table as a guideline but in practice, they tend to use their own judgement of what is a reasonable number of points to accept.

Politics and UK arrogance

Whilst politicians in the UK have praised the IB and shown their respect for the curriculum, it would take huge guts to accept that A Levels are no longer the gold standard of education.  No politician in their right mind would dare do this.  The UK is frequently regarded as the leading country when it comes to education, one only needs to look at the number of British international schools globally and the growth in demand for them to see that is still the case.  However, A Levels unfortunately aren’t on a par with the IB any longer despite efforts to introduce an A* and mirror many of the features of the IB.  With the world becoming more interconnected and Britain furthering their export of the English language, it would be a logical step to embrace an international curriculum such as the IB in order to remain competitive.  Whilst other countries are investing more in languages, Britain is abolishing the requirement for all students to learn at least one foreign language.

So, is the IB likely to become the privilege of those that can afford to pay for their education?  Whilst this is looking likely, I certainly hope not and whilst the IB doesn’t suit every student (it tends to favour all rounders), I believe it should be offered at every school and should be treated as something that students to aspire to achieve, rather than find an easier and less rewarding alternative.  If education is as much as a priority as government says it is, I believe it is worth the long term investment.

Written by Alexis Toye, Director of Operation and Finance at Teacherhorizons. Former IB school teacher and IB Coordinator at Oporto British School and Westminster Academy.

Teacher’s diary – my first week in Sri Lanka

Sarah Miller, an English teacher from London, has just completed her induction week in Sri Lanka at the British School of Colombo. She has kindly shared her first impressions of a life less ordinary with us…

Day 1


Adventure starts in glamorous Terminal 4, subtly trying to identify future-colleagues by gleaning information from the contents of bags (board pens? Teacher planners? Excessive pots of anti-aging cream?)and general demeanour (do they look as though they’ve had 2 months off work?)

Once this mildly awkward guessing-game is over and the group are united, I was happy to find a fantastic bunch of fun, like-minded people buzzing about the adventure we had ahead.

Landing into Sri Lanka was surreal and wonderful, gliding into a sea of palm trees stretching for miles. A wave of smug grins swept the group as we stood, sweat patches galore, in the basking sun, recollecting the bleak skies we had left behind.

Day 2

Colombo beach

Have settled into beautiful flat with balcony overlooking the Indian ocean and truly lovely housemates.

First day of school induction involved a trip to the beach, delicious lunch and absolutely no mention of lesson plans, assessment for learning or seating plans whatsoever. V refreshing. Although bit weird being in bikini with new colleagues, including Head, on first day of ‘work.’

Day 3

Novelty of opening curtains to blue skies, new city and a tuk tuk parked outside my door still hasn’t worn off. A tour of the school (it has fans. Panic over.) is followed by afternoon beers in the sunshine. Bought candle in coconut shell for room and (hippy) teacher bag, feeling very at-one with Sri Lankans. Looked around to realise shop’s sole customers were sunburnt Westerners. Had rice and curry supper to make self feel better.

Day 4

Tea workers

Housemate has just won a trip to a luxury bungalow in the tea country so headed off into the hills with her friends. We are greeted by butler serving us afternoon tea, followed by a game of croquet on the lawn. Have never felt so simultaneously far away from, and close to, England. Teachers at my school have reliably informed us that weekends really are our own here. Looking at my stunning surroundings, I cannot believe the places I will get to explore on this small island in my free time.

Day 5

Great meeting with Head of Department who was unbelievably welcoming and supportive. I have more freedom than I’ve ever had as a teacher to teach the texts that I want, however I think works. Plus the iGCSE has no coursework, so free from the shackles of marking 60 folders in the summer term. AND, we are informed that Sri Lanka has more bank holidays than anywhere in the world so we are under strict instructions to plan ahead for some fun long weekends. Celebrated with little mango smoothie and samosa.

Day 6


Really useful morning in school where everything from setting up a bank account – to locating a doctor – to finding marmite, was covered.  The school seem really open to new ideas and, without the pressures of Ofsted, are keen to try out new things that each of us have learnt from our previous schools. Afternoon spent on the local beach, sampling the local liquor (mixed reaction) and planning exotic trips for half term (positive reactions all round)

Day 7

Sunset from my balcony

First day of Inset, real buzz around the school. None of the weary eye-rolling and dread that pervades typical Inset days back home. I start planning a Macbeth module – excited that, given what I’ve heard about the good behaviour of students at the school, I can try out a wide range of activities with the kids that I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing before. This brief attempt to be productive is curtailed by the scheduled afternoon activity: cricket and BBQ in the garden. Think I’m going to enjoy my time here rather a lot.

Sarah will be at the British School of Colombo for a couple of years and we hope to hear how she’s getting on again soon! Browse our schools in Sri Lanka.

Written by Sarah Miller