Isaac, 17, from Norwood, in southeast London, said he became involved in gangs and stealing before his parents sent him to Ghana. After four years at school in Accra he is softly spoken and articulate and hopes to sit international GCSEs at the end of this academic year before returning to Britain for A-levels.
When they first arrive the teen-agers are often “a lot wilder”, said Amoo-Gottfried, but with time and discipline they become “domesticated”. He puts the troubles of the British pupils down to a lack of good role models - a reason many West Indian families cite for sending their children to school back home.
“In London father has run off to work early in the morning, mother the same. So you find the children left to themselves and, as they say, the devil finds work for idle hands. Here they see professional people – lawyers, doctors – whereas in the UK most of the Ghanaians are blue-collar workers.”
The list of consistent A, B and C grades on a results sheet pinned to the notice board is a source of pride and several of Amoo-Gottfried’s former pupils are now at British universities.
Michelle Asante, 23, attended Archbishop Porter girls’ school in Takoradi, Ghana, and went on to complete a sociology degree at Sheffield University before going to drama school.
“The school I was attending in Plumstead [southeast London] wasn’t great and my mum felt I wasn’t being challenged. There was a lot of fighting,” said Asante, who is now an actress. “Education is so important in Ghana – people take it as their only means of escaping poverty. With education you can do anything, no matter how poor you are.”
The pupils at Faith Montessori agree discipline in Africa can be tough but also see their lives changing for the better. Abena and “the London boys”, which includes James, 16, from Edmonton Green, north London, also admit that while they are benefiting from a Ghanaian education, they miss home and look forward to going back to A-levels and university.The years of mischief are behind them, Isaac said: “What gets you respect over there is disgrace over here.”
What gets you respect over there is disgrace over here. It used to get you disgrace here, too - before we learned better.