Problems within the ranks

Teachers in the 44 overseas schools for children of UK forces' families have spoken out about the difficulties of providing a high-quality education for a constantly shifting pupil population.

They gave their views in a consultation carried out by MPs, who published a report this week that backed the schools but called for closer cooperation between government departments to support the pupils.

One teacher wrote: "Our teachers have to cope with the emotional stresses affecting children when one parent is serving in an operational area whose dangers are brought home to them each evening thanks to the availability of 24-hour television news."

Another said that an average pupil had been to 4.3 schools by the age of 11 with an average stay of just five terms.

But staff were proud of their record: "Despite being outside the UK mainstream our schools are up to date. The resourcing we enjoy, alongside the smaller class sizes than in the UK, means our students get a very good education," said one. "A recently-arrived colleague who has school-age children said to me 'We offer a public school education in a state-sector setting."

Their concerns are shared by the Commons defence select committee, which said more should be done to limit the damage to pupils caused by the frequent moves of services families.

It calls for better transfer of pupil records between schools and a "statementing passport" for special needs pupils to dispense with the need for a new assessment every time a child moves.

The MPs want the Ministry of Defence to work more closely with the Department for Education and Skills and local authorities. They say it is unacceptable that they do not know how many children from services families they educate.

James Arbuthnot, chairman of the committee, said: "We got a sense that service children may be falling between the cracks of departmental and agency responsibilities, and can get left behind as a result. This must be urgently addressed. We owe them better."

They heard that concerns raised by Ofsted in 2004 about the support of special needs, gifted and ethnic minority pupils in the overseas schools had been addressed.

But they shared the inspectors' concern about the advisory committees running the schools and called on them to be trained to play a more active role and have their powers boosted to those of governors in civilian schools.

The MPs want the Treasury to ensure that service schools get the same funding as other state schools so they can take part in the same initiatives at the same time.


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