Using SMS to support the professional development of school principals in Ghana

Mr Louis Major and Ms Sue Swaffield | Presentation (PDF)

University of Cambridge



This presentation discusses SMS (Short Message Service) as a support for the Professional Development (PD) of headteachers (e.g. school principals), in the context of the successful Leadership for Learning (LfL) Ghana programme. Established in 2009, LfL Ghana is a PD initiative that aims to improve headteachers’ leadership capacities and to enhance the quality of teaching and learning in schools. LfL has been adopted as national policy in Ghana and incorporated into the Ghana Education Service’s Headteacher Handbook, and to date over 3000 school-leaders have attended workshops.

The current challenge facing the LfL Ghana programme is how to sustain engagement and maintain fidelity to LfL principles as practice develops. One response is regular communication using mobile phone technology, specifically SMS. 175 participants were involved in a year-long pilot study through which we gained an understanding of how SMS can be used to support the PD of headteachers. We share what we have learned from the experience of sending messages and eliciting replies and, importantly, outline plans to enable participant-to-participant messaging.

Based on a model that underpinned a health programme in South America, Project Zumbido, we are exploring the establishment of headteacher support groups for the sharing of ideas and provision of mutual encouragement. Each group will be comprised of 12 headteachers and an experienced facilitator who, in turn, will belong to a support group of their own (allowing assistance to be received from other facilitators and/or senior co-ordinators). This approach, using ubiquitously available SMS technology for communication among all participants, is inclusive for all headteachers including those working in resource-poor and remote areas of the country.

This work relates directly to the MLW theme of Professional Development, PD for headteachers being the focus of the whole LfL Ghana programme and of the trialled and planned messaging systems that are discussed during this presentation.

Relevance to MLW participants

The presentation is relevant to participants because:

  •  It outlines how SMS technology will facilitate support groups of headteachers in sub-Saharan Africa.
  •  It demonstrates how mobile technology can be used to support an existing PD framework such as LfL.
  •  It will stimulate discussion on how SMS can best be used to support communities of professional learners.


The presentation also has relevance to policy makers as it illustrates how, with limited resources, a programme adopted as national policy can be supported in practice across a whole country. The Leadership for Learning programme and its accompanying approaches to professional development could be adopted in other contexts.

The collected expertise of MLW participants will be critical in shaping the final implementation of the system so that it is both scalable and sustainable. During the session we will encourage dialogue, and areas for future collaboration may be established. QR code links will be distributed that allow attendees to find out more about LfL and the Ghana programme.



Louis Major and Sue Swaffield are both at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, where, through the Centre for Commonwealth Education, they are working on the Leadership for Learning Ghana programme. The aim of this collaborative research and development initiative is to improve the quality of children’s learning by developing headteachers’ leadership capacity. 

Louis is a Research Assistant, supporting the work of the Leadership for Learning (LfL) Ghana Programme. He is responsible for continuing data analysis, producing research materials and providing on-going programme assistance for the project. Louis is in the final stages of completing his PhD research (Computer Science) and has previously worked as a Research Assistant for the Lifelong Learning Network and as a Sessional Lecturer and Teaching Assistant. 

Sue is a Senior Lecturer, teaching on Masters and Doctoral programmes. Her teaching and research interests are within the fields of educational leadership and assessment, particularly leadership for learning, critical friendship for head teachers, and assessment for learning. Along with John MacBeath and David Frost she founded ‘Leadership for Learning: The Cambridge Network’, whose values and principles permeate her international research and development work. She is an Associate Editor of the journal 'Professional Development in Education', Executive Editor of 'Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice', and is on the Editorial Board of 'Reflective Teaching'. Her work in Higher Education builds on previous experiences as a teacher and adviser.





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