When I left the UK to take up the post of drama teacher at a British military school in Bergen, Germany, I had no idea what to expect. I knew the job would be challenging, perhaps even inspirational, but 26 years later I can reflect on a journey that I could never have predicted.
In 2004 I became performing arts adviser with Service Children's Education (SCE) for the Ministry of Defence, after 17 years as drama teacher and finally assistant head in an SCE secondary school. I am now the sole voice for the arts in 33 schools across Germany, Cyprus, Brunei, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Gibraltar and elsewhere. My week is often hectic but always varied, and the challenges are constant.
So it is perhaps ironic that after 26 years of fighting for British forces schools overseas to have equal opportunities and recognition in the national arts arena, 70 per cent of bases are now closing. The 67-year history of British forces in Germany will end when the last base shuts in 2017. Theatre and the arts are not only helping to broaden pupils' horizons, as they have always done, but are also playing a role in helping them and their families to say goodbye.
If it wasn't for the occupation of our pupils' parents, they would be in UK schools with access to rich arts opportunities. When I joined the SCE school in Bergen in 1986, many arts organisations in the UK were unaware that SCE existed and seemed not to know that our pupils were British with parents in the armed forces.
Making a connection with Arts Council England's Artsmark scheme in 2003 was the first obstacle to conquer; now 74 per cent of SCE schools enjoy Artsmark success. Artsmark celebrates the provision, standards and opportunities a school gives to the arts both within and beyond the curriculum.
A similar journey followed when we linked up with Arts Award, Creative Partnerships, A New Direction and Shakespeare's Globe. Now, after more than two decades, our schools mirror UK practice: we are inspected by Ofsted and all SCE schools have Department for Education numbers.
This year marks five years of the partnership between SCE and Shakespeare's Globe, which has allowed creativity and learning to flourish. SCE has frequently visited the Globe theatre in London where children participate in the Playing Shakespeare scheme, which enables them to see a professionally performed Shakespeare play each year. Our annual gifted and talented summer school takes place at the Globe, giving SCE pupils access to first-class tuition.
Globe education practitioners also work in SCE schools worldwide. The children, aged 5-18, were noticeably more creative and confident after such visits, in which they took part practically in a Shakespeare production. The Globe brings Shakespeare to life for our pupils and teachers.
More recently, we have begun collaborating with the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) education department on projects for schools that are closing due to the drawdown of British forces in Germany. The main focus will be on project and staff development, initially in two schools, Windsor and Ark, which face closure in July next year. We are committed to using the RSA Opening Minds curriculum framework to develop ideas.
At Windsor School, the projects will build on planned curriculum theme days. The focus will be on Shakespeare, and some of the themes will resonate with the skills and attributes needed for moving on.
At Ark, the focus will be on transforming a vacant space in the school into a temporary learning installation for all SCE schools to use. We also intend to liaise with the local German town of Monchengladbach about creating an original sculpture as a gift from the school.
For me, this is a time when arts support becomes even more important. In our closing schools in Germany, the RSA projects focus on personal learning and highlight some of the skills our pupils will need for a life beyond SCE. The RSA education department, under the leadership of Joe Hallgarten and me, is planning personalised projects. In one, a whole year group - using a Shakespeare focus - will develop personal learning and thinking skills such as resilience, tenacity and creative leadership. And opportunities for SCE staff to visit the RSA and London schools are already available.
Over the years, many of our pupils have embarked on careers in the arts as a result of their drama lessons in SCE schools. Georgina Bricknell, an ex-Windsor School pupil, is now in her second year at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. But, most importantly, drama and the arts give confidence to children who, through their circumstances, are often isolated from their native culture.
Our motto is: "Make a difference and be the best you can be." It is as valid a message now as it has ever been. It's at the heart of what I do, and it's a message we hope our pupils will carry with them throughout their lives, wherever they may live.
Joy Harris is performing arts adviser for Service Children's Education
Key stage 1: Treading the boards
Turn shy pupils into theatre stars with mod83's play script collection. bit.lyKS1playscript
Key stage 2: Stage stories
Help pupils to write their own scripts with diamond_raindrops' template. bit.lyKS2scripts
Key stage 3: Classroom creatives
Try justcallmeh's handy guide to help pupils devise their own plays. bit.lyKS3creative
Key stage 4: Bard barmy
For a range of Shakespearean resources, check out the Shakespeare's Globe profile on TES Resources. bit.lyKS4Globe
Key stage 5: Director's cut
Encourage students to direct plays with confidence with pcleaves' prompts - great for classroom display. bit.lyKS5directing.