View from here - Safe haven - from Ofsted inspections

2nd July 2010 at 01:00
Shrugging off its war-torn reputation, Serbia is now a calm oasis for teachers hoping to escape the stresses of teaching in the UK. Colin Graham reports

Serbia's capital Belgrade is an unsavoury place to be - or so one might assume, given the notoriety it gained during the dark days of Slobodan Milosevic. Such is the legacy of the violent recent past in the former Yugoslavia that some children are still accompanied to school by armed bodyguards.

But talk to some ex-pat British teachers here, and you begin to form a very different picture. They are relieved to have escaped the regime of inspections, bureaucracy and discipline problems they faced in the UK.

The 10 teachers from the UK at Belgrade's British International School (BIS) comment on the relaxed and sociable atmosphere in which they work, in a school now so popular with local parents that it is having to acquire new premises for its primary and secondary pupils.

For the teachers, the overriding cause for their commitment to BIS is the professional advantages it presents. Ian Davies, 37, originally from Scotland, said that the less cumbersome workload he experienced in Belgrade, compared to the Newcastle primary school where he had taught in the past, has made him happier as an employee.

"In the UK, I was bogged down with paperwork and had about an hour free to myself every night," he said. "Here, you are allowed to develop the teaching style that you choose, and you are also given credit for your professionalism. At home, you weren't given too many opportunities to show your own character as a teacher."

Bolton native Frank Morris, 40, echoes his views and comments: "I have a better quality of work-life balance out here. I don't do any less of a thorough job than I did in England, but I have smaller class sizes and I don't have any major issues with pupils' conduct."

Neil Howie, deputy principal of the school, says: "Here, we don't have the discipline issues, the drugs issues or the bullying issues (that you get in the UK). The children are very socially aware. You enjoy teaching them, and the lower numbers mean you have a better relationship with them."

Kevin Bradley, 29, who formerly taught in Kent, feels that being answerable to the needs of fee-paying parents in Serbia is preferable to the demands of accountability back home. He and his wife Emma, who also teaches at the school, are delaying any return to the UK for some time to come. The Serbs, they say, have impressed them with their "pride, warmth and culture".

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