Get fell in, you lot!

10th March 2006 at 00:00
NQTs start as captains in services schools. You don't get saluted, but you do get plenty of perks. And you dine in the officers' mess. Martin Whittaker reports

Do you want to see the world and develop your career? Then why not join the Army? Seriously! As a newly qualified teacher in a services school abroad, you get some privileges associated with being an officer while remaining a civilian: you get a generous financial package - and you live rent-free for five years.

While the Army is in the grip of a recruitment crisis, services schools maintained by the Ministry of Defence, according to recent reports, are taking their pick of good quality teachers - many of whom would be struggling to get on to the housing ladder back home.

But the real bonus is in the quality of the schools. Based in countries including Germany and Cyprus, as well as far-flung locations such as the Falklands, Belize and Brunei, this sector used to be regarded as an education backwater.

Not any more.

In the last round of Ofsted inspections, around 40 per cent of these schools were declared outstanding. They are well-resourced and get a significant budget for continuing professional development. And some schools are working with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority at the leading edge of curriculum design.

"At one time we were the poor relative and people seemed to think of us as in the back of beyond," says Kathryn Forsyth, assistant chief executive for school effectiveness with Service Children's Education, the MoD agency which maintains the schools. "But one of the benefits of being out here and not having to jump immediately to legislation in England is that we can take our time and take the best bits of it."

Service Children's Education maintains 44 schools in ten countries. All but six are primary schools - most children move back home to boarding schools for their secondary education. All the schools follow the English national curriculum.

They do not have the extremes of poverty and affluence that afflict UK state schools, and class sizes are small. But there are other challenges: pupil mobility is high, averaging around 70 per cent in primaries.

As well as the stress of frequent moves to different postings and moving away from friends to live in a foreign community, children also have to cope with a parent deployed in active service, often in dangerous places.

Marlborough First School in Osnabruck, northern Germany, has seen the turnover rate of children increase in the last few years since the Army has been on active service in the Middle East. A recent inspection report described the school as outstanding, providing a crucial anchor for its community during a time of particular disruption and anxiety for service families.

"Our pupil mobility this year is well over 80 per cent," says Rita Carvosso, the headteacher. "That's the greatest challenge we have to face.

It means we have to have strategies in place, good induction procedures for the children, and high-quality assessment.

"We have to settle children very quickly into school and take care of their emotional well-being, not just in the transition phase, but when parents are deployed on active service to dangerous parts of the world."

Karen Palin, a Year 3 teacher, started there last August - she had previously taught in international schools, but never before in a services one.

"It's been excellent for many reasons," she said. "Firstly the national curriculum is behind everything we do, so the teaching is exactly as you would do it in the UK. And because you're still open to HMI scrutiny, all the experience and everything you do while you're here is recognised and valued should you at any point choose to return to the UK."

She also likes the pupil-teacher ratio - her class has 17 children. Every class has a teaching assistant and there's strong special educational needs support.

"There are lots of challenges and opportunities for you to develop and pursue interests. There's a strong CPD programme, both in-house but also the opportunity to go on courses," says Karen.

There is one note of caution - you have to get used to the quirks of military life. Housing is likely to be in the garrison and, when you get your accommodation, you are marched in. You're marched out again when the time comes for you to leave, and the premises will be checked for cleanliness.

On the plus side, you're given an "equivalent military rank" and are housed accordingly - an NQT is ranked the same as a captain. It doesn't confer authority, and you won't get saluted. But there are perks such as first-class travel as you go up the ranks. And you do get access to the officer's mess.

Your social life will vary depending on where you are posted. Some garrisons can offer a lively social scene, particularly if you're single.

There's likely to be a mix of nationalities and assorted civilian and military folk.

On the minus side, it might seem insular to some because you are living among the people you work with. "We do encourage people to do lots of other things," says Kathryn Forsyth. "The good thing about being in Germany is that you can get in your car and drive to Berlin, Paris - you name it."

The job can be financially rewarding. While the basic salary is the same as in the UK, teaching posts in services schools come with many benefits.

So while an NQT would get a pound;19,161 starting salary, they also get an annual overseas recruitment allowance of pound;3,916 and a tax-free transfer grant of pound;1,373.

In addition they also receive a tax-free "cost of living addition", which varies depending on marital status and family size. They also get rent-free accommodation for the first five years, and subsidised heating and electricity.

"Financially it's a good deal," says Kathryn Forsyth. "I have to say also, our expectations are high. We do try to go for the best, and I think that's starting to pay off in terms of really good results and the high percentage of outstanding schools."

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