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Channel hop for a clean break

Looking for a fresh challenge as a headteacher? Try the remote island of Sark for size. Stephen Lucas reports

Teaching on the island of Sark, where cars are outlawed and the school has no telephone line, is a far cry from the inner-city primaries where headteacher Karen Adams began her career.

Having had her fill of the grey high-rises of Bootle, Mrs Adams left Netherton Moss school in Merseyside for the Channel Island tax haven 10 years ago.

She said: "I'd worked in a big Merseyside primary for five years, and before that I was in London. I didn't want to wait until I retired to live somewhere beautiful. I wanted a change of climate and this was the first advert I saw for somewhere I wanted to live. I applied, not really believing I'd get the job."

The smallest of the four main Channel Islands, Sark lies 80 miles off England's south coast, and is only three miles long and a mile and a half wide. The governing body on the island is the Chief Pleas. This is split into committees, one of which runs the school. Although the island is not under the jurisdiction of Guernsey, every two years Guernsey's director of education catches the boat over and inspects the school.

Sark school, which has a roll of 50, is poised to move to a new site with computer facilities and a phone line to boot. For the moment though, it is on a split site with 36 five to nine-year-olds in two classes in the junior school, and the nine to 15-year-olds in a single class in the senior school.

Mrs Adams, 40, who is leaving the school in August so that she can concentrate on building a house on the island with her husband Simon, said:

"It's a very demanding job, and I'm looking forward to a more normal kind of life with more free time.

"We have no accredited examination system here, so most of the 11-year-olds leave the island, but we have four 11 to 15-year-olds who have stayed on.

"It's an immense workload for the teacher in terms of planning and differentiation. But we're well prepared because the class has always been like that.

"The pupils here have very good social skills. The older ones are very caring. They all play together on the field outside - all the children, from five up to 15."

The school is currently considering adopting a system where pupils can take accredited exams online, so that more 11-year-olds can stay on.

While teaching at Sark school has proved a positive experience on the whole, Mrs Adams, who teaches key stage 1, said it has its drawbacks.

She said: "We don't have the learning support services that other schools have. We're on our own out here. Curriculum development is difficult, there's no variety of courses to attend, though there are some on Guernsey we go to."

While many teachers relish the opportunity the weekend affords to escape from their pupils, Mrs Adams says that one of the beauties of teaching on Sark is that you see the children out of school too.

"We rely heavily on the tourist industry for work here. The father of one of my pupils owns a hotel and I might go there for a meal. It's lovely seeing the pupils out of school, but some people wouldn't think so."

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