I teach English, maths and baa-ology

15th June 2012 at 01:00
Sheep farming falls within teachers' remit on the Falklands

"It's just like a small Cornish town," Tom Hill says, cheerily, "only it's 8,000 miles from the UK and off the coast of Argentina."

Hill is head of Stanley Infant and Junior School on the Falkland Islands, overseeing some of the English education system's most remote schools, and today he is expecting some very sore heads among his staff.

The 14 June is known as Liberation Day for the 3,500 people who live on the British territory, and this year it is particularly special, marking the 30th anniversary of the end of the Falklands War.

"There is usually a very big party on the 14th, where everybody has a few drinks," Hill says. "But this year it falls on a Thursday, so everyone has to go to work the next day. I expect some of my staff to be a bit groggy in the morning."

But it is unlikely that their headteacher will concern himself too much over the sluggish start to the morning's classes, such is the overall commitment of his teachers.

Providing a fully rounded English education to nearly 300 children spread across an area roughly the size of Wales throws up some rather unique challenges for the former Wiltshire head and his staff.

"We have about 240 students who we educate in the same way as they would be in the UK," Hill says as a blizzard picks up outside his window. "We have the main school in Port Stanley and then four what we call settlement schools around the islands, which in most cases are attended by fewer than 10 children. Most have fewer than five."

According to Hill, the Falklands fall into two categories. There is the town, namely Port Stanley, which is the capital of the Falklands, and then there is "camp", which derives from the Spanish for country, campo, and refers to the rest of the wild island territory.

The term can trigger childish giggles among the newly arrived, particularly when talking about adapting to a "camp way of life", but when it comes to trying to teach those children who live in the most rugged corners of camp, it is a serious matter.

"We have islands the size of Malta where just two people live, so for some children it is impossible for them to get to the settlement schools," says Hill.

Every farm must have an airstrip where possible, and part of Hill's staff is the travelling teacher service, which has three teachers who go out into the most remote corners of the islands to live in the children's houses, teaching them for a period of two weeks at a time.

"Every six weeks, the family will put up a teacher for two weeks," Hill says. "But the teachers will be expected to do much more than just teach when they are there. They will have to help with sheep farming, delivering lambs, marking the livestock and repairing fences.

"They fly out there on the Islander aircraft, which are basically family saloons with wings," Hill laughs.

Sheep farming is the main industry on the islands, with some family farms stretching back six or seven generations to the British settling the islands in the early 19th century.

When children do not have a teacher staying with them they rely on the telephone teacher, a system where they dial into a conference call to go through their lessons. The aim is to move towards an online-based system, but the internet connection on the islands can be hit and miss.

Secondary provision runs until 16, after which students move to the UK, where they can study at either Peter Symonds College in Hampshire or Chichester College in West Sussex, which both have an arrangement with the islands.

But even sitting GCSEs proves to be a peculiar challenge for the teenagers on the Falklands.

"They have to sit them at the same time as they are sitting them in the UK," Hill explains. "It means the poor sods have to be in school for 6.45am. Everything is done by the book, you see."

Around half of the islands' teachers are recent arrivals, looking for adventure, Hill says, much like himself. The overall population of the islands has doubled since the end of the war, with the oil industry now also attracting increasing numbers of people.

"It is an amazing place. You could easily think you're in a small English village, but then you'll see a penguin in the street," he adds. "It's so easy to travel to South America, and we have great relations with schools in countries such as Uruguay and Peru.

"I can see how a lot of people come here for just a year, and then end up staying for the rest of their lives."


The Falkland Islands were first sighted by English navigator John Davis in 1592, but the first landing was not recorded until nearly 100 years later in 1690 by British captain John Strong.

Small settlements were established throughout the 18th and 19th centuries by the British, Spanish, Dutch and French, who named the islands Iles Malouines, from which the Spanish name Islas Malvinas is derived.

The Spanish settlers left in 1811 and by 1833 the British claimed the islands. On 2 April 1982, the territory was invaded by Argentine armed forces.

The Falkland Islands were liberated on 14 June that year, and remain under British sovereignty.

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