We shall still be moved

1st November 2002 at 00:00
Bali claimed the lives of four international school staff but it is unlikely to deter teachers from working abroad, says Martin Whittaker

The terrorist attack in Bali has sent shock waves through the international schools community.The tragedy has personally hit the main organisation for overseas teacher recruitment, the European Council of International Schools (ECIS). Among the 195 dead was a Briton, Jonathan Ellwood, 38, the director of studies and head of humanities at the International School in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in Vietnam. He was in Bali to attend an International Baccalaureate conference. His mother Caroline is editor of the council's magazine and a frequent visitor at international schools conferences.

Deborah Snodgrass, an American aged 33, who taught at Bali's international school, and 32-year-old Shane Walsh-Till, from Australia of the international school in Hong Kong, were also killed. Among those missing presumed dead is Jamie Wellington from New Zealand, a teacher at the Jakarta international school in Indonesia.

As messages of sympathy pour in, the European Council says the threat of terrorism should not be allowed to undermine the work of its schools in promoting multicultural understanding. "It probably reinforces for many schools the need to carry on doing what they are doing," says Mike Maybury, the council's executive secretary. "Such senseless violence only reconfirms our feelings that the way forward is through education."

But does the threat mean teachers should be more careful than ever in choosing where they work?

"It could strike anywhere," says Mr Maybury. "Who would have thought Bali was going to be a target? But we can't allow terrorism to dictate the rest of our lives."

Teaching abroad is competitive: ECIS says there is no shortage of applicants and its recruitment fairs attract up to 700 teachers. But since September 11 last year, there has been less movement of overseas teachers. Schools in the Middle East are nervous, particularly the international schools in Kuwait, in the front line if there is war with Iraq.

"Of course, plans are in place for emergency evacuation," says Mr Maybury. "It probably makes people think twice, but I think we can reassure them. After all, London and Manchester have been attacked by the IRA. So the risk is there, wherever you are."

After Bali, the Surabaya European School in Indonesia, faces an uncertain future. The school, which educates 30 primary-aged children using the British national curriculum, has stepped up security. Tahmine Vancolen, the head, says: "The mood is sombre as we mourn for the Bali victims and fear further attacks, but our teachers have worked overseas before and have not expressed any intention of returning home. First there was the financial crisis which reduced the expatriate community in Indonesia. Now there is a security problem which will make expatriates with families think twice about being here. We are in a situation where we hope for the best and fear the worst."

The Foreign Office warns people to avoid Indonesia, but has not advised British international schools there to close. "We have advised them to review their security and to be vigilant," a spokesman says.

Brian Garton is a retired international school head. He believes that when the recruiting season starts in January, demand for jobs overseas will be as high as ever.

"For those who have made a decision to go outside the comfortable West, I don't think'll see this as a greater threat to their security than anything that's happened before. In the past 25 to 30 years, a number of international schools have been in very dire situations, and it hasn't significantly affected things."

He advises teachers to check out the security situation before taking a job. He recommends the Foreign Office and the US State Department as information sources. The CIA, he says, publishes excellent maps and provides other information. For those who want sunshine, there can be great benefits in overseas work, he says: a better lifestyle, better pay and conditions and less administration are just a few of the advantages.

This summer, Stuart Dennis gave up the headship of a village school in Somerset to move to Dubai with his young family. He now runs the Jumeirah primary school, which has 860 children aged three to eleven, half of them British.

So how is the mood among his staff after Bali? "It hasn't really changed," he says. "Dubai is a cosmopolitan place. The United Arab Emirates has traditionally been a very safe place. Crime rates are low and it's a safe environment to live and work.

"There is a note of caution with travel - people wouldn't travel to Bali, for example. But I think it's the sensible side of living and working overseas. People are used to that."

All his 57 full-time teachers are British qualified and his international staff get a good deal: their housing is paid for, they get return air fares, medical insurance, professional development, small class sizes and a good working environment.

"It's a fantastic facility to work in," says Mr Dennis. "I'm looking out of the window at the gardens, astroturf, tennis courts, swimming pool, big gymnasium. It's very well served and the children get something that's much more akin to a UK independent school environment."

He says competition for jobs is very high. "I ran a local advert looking for supply teachers, and we had about 100 applications, and about 150 for teaching assistants." He says applicants need a well-presented CV to get noticed. Heads of international schools are flooded with speculative CVs, which might or might not receive a reply. It is best to follow up a CV with a phone call, he says. He also advises that you should conduct research into a school, check its credentials and its conditions of employment. You should leave home knowing as much as you can about work and domestic arrangements.

You should also take time to understand the local economy. "Sadly, there are schools whose facade is great but the reality of working with limited resources, in poorly managed schools where staff are underpaid by local standards, is far from idyllic," says Mr Dennis. " It helps to find out about other local schools in order to compare."

* This is the first of a monthly series on working overseas. Next month (December 6): applying for jobs

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