It's desert island desks

6th November 2009 at 00:00
A case of 'Hello Mr Chipp' as teacher ups sticks from UK for far-flung Ascension Island

We have all been asked, "If you were stranded on a desert island, which three things would you need?" But there's a more interesting variation on the question for a Lincolnshire-based teacher: "If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you need to teach?"

This summer, Anthony Chipp left his job at North Kesteven School, south of Lincoln, which specialises in the performing arts, to move to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. He has a two-year contract to teach creative arts to GCSE pupils at Two Boats School, which follows the national curriculum.

The tiny island is part of the British overseas territory of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, but Mr Chipp relishes the contrast with the UK. "It's a very unique situation. Everyone is here for a reason and a job. It's a safe culture because everyone knows everyone."

The Ascension Island government, which is heavily in debt, has strict spending limits for public services and some commentators believe it could be bankrupt by next summer.

However, at Two Boats, the island's only school, budgeting is not the main concern. "Our biggest problem is getting things," said the British teacher. "Anything big has to be shipped in. For example, we have just ordered two benches that are taking months to arrive. The school term is based around the shipping schedule."

There is one boat that visits every two months, bringing food, supplies and visitors. It also provides the only opportunity to leave!

Mr Chipp's new job has provided him and his family with an entirely new lifestyle, but the teacher says there are many benefits.

"It's great because when teaching drama you need space and privacy. On the island we have this. The challenge is the pupils' very basic use of language."

Many of the pupils have never seen a theatre production, nor do they have ready access to film or television. The islanders receive just two TV channels via the British Forces Broadcasting Service - the UK has a heavy military presence on the island.

Mr Chipp has turned to his former Lincolnshire colleagues and pupils in a bid to overcome the cultural isolation of his new pupils. He set up a mentoring scheme with the sixth form back at North Kesteven. He believes that the project is already delivering benefits - for both schools.

"My pupils have limited use of language. It's funny how they now come into lessons with scripts and language they would not normally use. They are good at creative learning, but their dialogue is not good."

Each island pupil has two mentors and is encouraged to email and communicate through Facebook for help with homework topics.

"The British kids are the inverse to the children on the island; they are great at the dialogue, but lack creativity," says the arts teacher. "They are the ones who can perform the EastEnders type of drama.

"It's an interesting cultural experiment. Some of my pupils have lived here all their lives. The pupils back in England find this fascinating."


Ascension Island was discovered by Joao da Nova Castelia in 1501 but "found again" two years later by Alphonse d'Albuquerque on Ascension Day - hence its name.

It lies in the South Atlantic, 8 degrees south of the Equator. Is is 900 miles from Africa and over 1,000 miles from South America.

It is part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.

Its area is approximately 34 square miles and the capital is George Town.

The official language is English.

The island's 1,100 inhabitants includes 200 UK and 150 US citizens.

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