Schools join fight to help children of the armed forces
This August, Leuchars Primary in Fife is set to grow from 150 pupils to 235 and will welcome nine new staff members, as the army moves into the town's military base from Bad Fallingbostel in Germany.
By and large, this school knows who its military families are. Before the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards began to arrive at Leuchars, the base was occupied by the RAF; dads picked up their children in uniform and their addresses made it clear who lived behind the wire.
Now every Scottish school should be able to replicate that familiarity: a tool is set to be rolled out that will allow them to identify children whose parents have an armed-forces connection, whether that is as a serving soldier, reservist or veteran. This will be particularly helpful in recognising when children might be suffering from problems particularly associated with the military, such as a parent being deployed.
The move has come about because of changes to the composition of the armed forces. Under UK government plans, the army will shrink from 102,000 personnel to 82,000 by 2020, with the number of trained reservists set to rise from 19,300 to 30,000.
Getting it right
In future, thanks to the growth in reservists, children with links to the military will be found in a wider variety of schools, not just those acclimatised to such an intake like Leuchars. Yet this might not be apparent to teachers because these pupils' parents could be doctors, teachers or taxi drivers, according to Fife Council's head of schools, John McLaughlin.
"This will enable all schools to identify these youngsters - where families are willing - and to provide additional support as required. It is part of the whole Getting it Right For Every Child agenda; if we are trying to get things right for every child, this is an added help," said Mr McLaughlin, who has spearheaded the introduction of the tool.
The new tool will form part of the Scottish schools information management system, SEEMiS. Using it to identify children with parents in the armed forces was "essential", said Moira Leslie, education programme officer at the Royal Caledonian Education Trust. Before joining the trust - which supports children with military links - Ms Leslie was headteacher of Raigmore Primary in Inverness, where about half the roll was made up of military families.
"It is crucial that schools can identify these children, not to single them out but just to raise awareness among the staff and put in appropriate training, so that when a child needs any support - because of a deployment, for instance - they are ready to offer it and they aren't left wondering what to do," she said.
Although British troops had largely withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq, deployment remained an issue, she said.
"In Inverness, this is the third summer in a row that dads will be away for the whole summer holidays," Ms Leslie said. "The first two times they were in Afghanistan, and this time they are going to Cyprus."
She added: "I'm passionate about identifying schools where there may be only one or two children. These children and their families don't have the support of the base or the camp."
Even at a school such as Leuchars Primary, the tool would be useful, headteacher Lucy Jess insisted. "You need to know your families so you are aware of the potential challenges children have in their lives," she said.
In August last year, the roll at Leuchars fell from 240 to 150 after the departure of the RAF; as of August this year, the trend is expected to reverse with the arrival of the army.
Ms Jess said: "Our local kids have lost all their friends and are now in a school where the roll is going to nearly double. Then the army kids are coming in and, of course, it's a big change for them. We have done a lot of work building resilience and have explored feelings around change through drama. The work we do is not specifically to support service families, it's to support all our families."
Ms Jess has travelled to Germany three times to enrol pupils and smooth the transition for families. The school is as ready as it can be for its new arrivals. Now, through SEEMiS, all schools can ensure they are ready to support children with military links.
At Raigmore Primary in Inverness, where roughly half the roll comes from military families, teachers carry out an "emotional check-in" in place of registration, asking each child how they are feeling that day.
According to Moira Leslie, the school's former headteacher and now education programme officer for the Royal Caledonian Education Trust, it is "a very powerful way to start the day".
The trust provides CPD for teachers and resources for schools to better equip them to support forces children. See www.rcet.org.uk