African tales of hope inspire head teacher

The Northern Echo: KENTAN JOURNEY: Yarm Prep School headteacher Bill Sawyer with his wife, Sarah, daughter Amelia and son Wilf in Kenya KENTAN JOURNEY: Yarm Prep School headteacher Bill Sawyer with his wife, Sarah, daughter Amelia and son Wilf in Kenya

Bill Sawyer, recently appointed as Headteacher at Yarm Preparatory School, considers the lessons he learned from teaching in a school in Kenya, East Africa, for six years.

Kenya is a stunningly beautiful country but one that is blighted by fierce ethnic conflict and security issues. Unlike most westerners in Kenya, I have been fortunate enough to learn about the youthful hope and exuberance that is personified in the country’s future - its young people. In my six years of being immersed in its education system, I have experienced the many successes and challenges this system has to face.

As an experienced primary teacher who has taught at both international and local schools in Kenya, I certainly relish a challenge. My involvement in the Kenyan education system was a thrilling and ultimately life-changing, experience. As the recently appointed head of Yarm Preparatory School, I feel I can use large parts of my experiences in Africa to inform my approach here.

My life in Kenya started when my wife and I decided to embark on a quest to experience a different way of life while continuing our careers as teachers. I applied for positions in international schools in Kenya and was fortunate enough to secure a teaching post at The Banda School, Nairobi.

The Banda School is a co-educational and multi-cultural preparatory school set on a beautiful thirty acre site adjacent to the National Park, on the outskirts of Kenya's capital, Nairobi. This was an idyllic location where as the sun went down you could often hear the lions and other wildlife in the distance. This post was to be followed by the position of Primary Headteacher at Braeburn Mombasa International School. Braeburn Mombasa is a thriving international preparatory school based on the stunning Kenyan coast. This very different part of Kenya offered a tantalising mix of cultures, idyllic beaches and windswept shorelines. Our holidays and weekends allowed time for travel but also offered the opportunity to volunteer in and support a variety of local schools.

In the UK we have many Government regulated schools as part of the maintained sector which include free schools and academies, we also enjoy a first class independent sector. In Kenya some education is government funded but many of these institutions are very overcrowded. Some primary schools have over a hundred children per class with a single teacher. As a result there has been a great deal of growth in the private sector in the last few years. These private schools are run at very low cost and operate with few resources or infrastructure. They rely on support from overseas charities, local aid organisations and church groups to help equip and run their schools. Arguably at the pinnacle of the private sector are the international schools made up of pupils from a very mixed ethnic background, including many expats.

During our time in Kenya the deprivation and the need to support the less affluent private sector schools was very apparent. As an international school in Mombasa we had many resources that could be shared such as buses, coaching staff and a range of sporting facilities. We therefore instituted a variety of community outreach and inclusion initiatives which aimed to not only provide support to the local schools but also valuable learning opportunities for our relatively privileged students. Our pupils learned not to take their situations for granted and developed the understanding that they had a responsibility to support those less fortunate on a long term basis.

Our student led Community Action Group learnt to organise fund raising events for local schools ranging from fashion shows to fun days. They developed their communication skills through marketing these events and raising awareness of a variety of educational charities. One such charity we developed strong ties with is KESHO; a non-profit organisation that funds promising students through their schooling. Their ethos, which I share, is to encourage community progression through education.

At Yarm School our mission statement is Education for Life. One very important aspect of this is being a positive contributor to society. In the Prep School we ensure our students achieve this aim through learning about social responsibility, regular fundraising for charities and developing and keen attitude to sustainability. Such an approach imparts in our pupils the inherent desire to excel, accomplish and make a difference in the world. By fostering this aspiration our pupils carry with them a vital understanding of their place beyond our gates

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