Fury as teachers prepare to flee

7th March 2003 at 00:00
KUWAIT

Embassy and schools at loggerheads as war looms, reports Brendan O'Malley

BRITISH teachers in Kuwait are furious at schools' reactions to embassy advice to leave the country in advance of war.

The TES website has been inundated with complaints about the schools and the embassy, which advised on February 19 that all Britons who consider themselves "non-essential" should leave.

However, the embassy also refused to say whether or not individuals were "essential". Schools and staff have been left wrangling over whether teachers can leave without losing pay and benefit or even their job.

Graham Hawkins, principal of the British School of Kuwait, said that technically teachers were in breach of contract if they left before war broke out. "We are not enforcing that; it is not our desire or in our interests to treat our staff that way."

One teacher said the main threat to him and his colleagues was not the war, but the increased terrorist threat following two separate shootings of British Aerospace staff in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

The Kuwait English School, one of the four leading English curriculum schools in the country, closed down offering ex-pat staff a free flight home, a month's pay now, a further month's pay on their return and summer holiday pay.

Of the other three, only the New English School is offering to pay teachers' return flights home plus half a month's salary now and half a month's on return. The British School of Kuwait says it will pay a month's salary on teachers' return. The Gulf English School (GES) is offering pay and flight costs only to teachers with children in Kuwait, but staff will get two weeks' holiday pay if they stay until the end of term.

Brian Smith, secondary head at GES, said: "There are many different views.

The education ministry feels that education is essential. Parents are angry with some of the schools that have closed."

His school had planned as long ago as October for its evacuation policy and benefits to kick in once embassy advice had reached level 2, when all Britons are told to leave.

The schools have conflicting interests: they are businesses relying on fees and most of their pupils are Kuwaiti or non-Western nationals, who are not fleeing. Many of them face severe disruption to their preparations for GCSEs, AS and A-levels as schools try to stay open with a skeleton staff.

At the same time, according to Graham Hawkins, the schools do not wish to alienate their British staff.

Both heads and teachers are blaming some of the confusion on embassy advice. Wardens appointed to liaise between the two were told by embassy staff that the advice had not reached level 2.

"The embassy advice is a bit bungled," said Siobhan Doran, head of secondary at the New English School. "They told wardens we are 'sort of at level 1b'."

"The embassy has been disingenuous," added Mr Smith. "I wish they would put in writing what they are saying on the phone."

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