It's a teacher's life in the army

12th January 1996 at 00:00
Working in a school for forces' children is a low-risk way of making a career overseas. Valerie Hall reports.

The world is your oyster if you are a qualified teacher, for with only a couple of years' classroom experience, sometimes even less, you could be packing your bags for any of the four corners of the globe.

If you have itchy feet, but are apprehensive about adjusting to a different education system and not being able to speak or understand the language, you could consider applying to Service Children's Schools (North West Europe), which provides education in 64 schools for 14,000 pupils whose parents are members of British armed forces based in north-west Europe. The schools are well-resourced, well-staffed and follow the UK education system, so teachers from the UK have all the advantages of living and working abroad without the drawbacks.

"There is no danger of teachers becoming isolated from UK practice," says a SCS (NWE) spokesperson. "Our schools aim to provide the very best of UK practice. We follow the national curriculum (England and Wales) and pupils take GCSE, A-level and a wide variety of post-16 vocational courses."

Although recruitment almost stagnated in the past year due to "drawdown" (the withdrawal of many military personnel stationed in Germany), it has begun to build again now that teachers have been assimilated from schools which closed into those which remained open.

Most vacancies are at primary level (there will always be a special call for qualified reception and key stage 1 teachers) and there are a few secondary places. At least two years' continuous service in a UK local education authority is preferred, but newly-qualified teachers are sometimes taken on particularly in "shortage" areas.

Ninety-six per cent of applicants are recruited to posts which closely match their experience or specialisms. All receive the same professional support they would get from any good LEA in the UK, and all schools are inspected by the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) every four years.

A team of inspectors and advisers, led by a chief inspectoradviser, organises in-service training, teacher appraisal, moderation and assessment policies, external reviews of schools and professional development programmes. Where appropriate, teachers are encouraged to attend UK courses to keep up to date.

Russ Hibbins left Wakefield in Yorkshire 25 years ago for King's Secondary School, Guetersloh, northern Germany, and has been there ever since. Now head of key stage 3 mathematics, he praises the inspection and appraisal pro-cedures, the professional support and the "very good" teacherpupil ratios - "average tutor groups in Years 10 and 11 range from 17-22", he says. He also appreciates the high standard of living: "We are paid UK salaries, but get a London allowance on top and a cost of living allowance according to family circumstances."

But Mr Hibbins points out that teachers should be prepared to contend with the problems caused by "turbulence". "We have four or five garrisons within our catchment area and each year on average we lose around half of our population, " he explains.

"It is not really a major problem until pupils reach Years 10 and 11 when GCSEs are looming up. However, schools are geared up for this and the army co-operates as much as possible by deferring postings for the sake of the child until exams are over. The pastoral side is hard work, particularly when dealing with the emotional stress caused when fathers are posted to war zones. Possibly over 50 per cent of pupils have fathers going to Bosnia or expecting to, but we cope very well."

A decision to teach in a services school improved life immeasurably for Jackie Pass of the William Wordsworth First School in Sennelager Paderborn: "Eight years ago I was working in inner city Birmingham and all I did was go to school and go home. Then I saw an ad in The TES, applied and everything happened very fast. I spent four years in a primary school near the DutchGerman border to begin with and lived in the Mess. Then I was offered a flat rent-free.

"I have a better standard of living and have seen a lot more of Europe - Germany and Belgium, and more recently eastern Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. Generally, I would go skiing in February and go home to England at Christmas and either Easter or the summer."

She discovered that "there is a life outside teaching. A lot of social life here is what you make of it. My strongest friends are the teachers I work with and teachers from other schools living in my block of flats. As far as mixing with the German community is concerned, if you speak a little of the language, they bend over backwards to help you."

Not all schools are within a barracks, but many are, so potential teachers need to be able to fit into a military environment. "Teaching staff are members of the Mess," says Russ Hibbins, "and can join in all the leisure and sporting facilities on offer. For some it works very well; it is certainly a major attraction to the younger, single girls!"

"Some teachers find it difficult", says Jackie Pass, "your family is not just down the road if there are any problems. However every school has an army unit that looks after you and we can call on the army's social workers and other support staff for assistance."

Could taking this route hinder career development? Quite the contrary, according to Ms Pass. "Incentives, points and allowances are offered for extra work and responsibilities," she says.

"I have taught Years 1 and 2 and reception children as well as some primary and have worked with a variety of teachers. Eventually I became head of infants and early years co-ordinator, and also acting deputy head. All this experience has enabled me to get a post back in the UK as a deputy head at Manor Leas Infants School in Lincoln.

"Coming here has worked out even better than I hoped. Not only have I benefited professionally, but I have become more confident about making a go of things in any new place or situation."

* Advertisements for services posts appear in The TES and interviews are carried out around the UK. Teachers accepted for appointments are offered a three-year contract after which they may be invited to apply for a permanent post. Further information from: Headquarters, SCS (NWE), UKSC(G), BFPO 140

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