What Can We Learn From The Ministry Of Defence?

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What is it like to teach in a British Forces school?

Service Children’s Education (SEC) provides schools and educational support for children of the UK armed forces, Ministry of Defence (MoD) personnel and sponsored organisations stationed overseas. I didn’t know too much about this area of education until I visited King’s School, Gütersloh – Mansergh Barracks.

History of the MoD

During the 1980s, the British Families Education Service (BFES) was renamed Service Children’s School (SCS). In 1997 it took its current name Service Children’s Education (SCE). Despite the various changes to the name and administration, it continues the mission of its predecessors: providing education for the children of British Armed Forces personnel. In line with the announcement of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) of 2010, it is the Government’s intention to rebase the British Army from Germany to the UK by 2020.

This sadly means that ~90 British schools – once located across the globe – will gradually close unless there is a need.

Today only 20 or so remain; six residing in Germany with a further five, including King’s School (where I was working) closing down at the end of August 2019. Every pupil and teacher will need to find a new school and a place of work! This in itself makes this academic year a challenge. Motivation; assets; job-hunting; managing pupils examinations and relocation…

All the MoD schools follow the English National Curriculum and sit the usual public examinations. They are also inspected by Ofsted. Teachers have recognised UK professional qualifications and the majority are recruited especially from the United Kingdom through the Civil Service.

The agency largely operates primary and secondary schools in Germany and Cyprus and provides educational facilities in territories such as the Falklands and Gibraltar where there is a significant British military presence. The schools are typically grouped by garrison (including its outlying bases).

King’s School, Gütersloh

King’s School opened its doors to its first pupils on 19 September 1960. The current headteacher Emma Bryson heard me speak at ‘Capturing the teenage brain‘ conference hosted by the NAHT in March 2018. After we met, Emma had invited me over to work with her colleagues in October 2018 to help bring colleagues up to speed with the English system; to prepare for a possible return back to teaching in the U.K.

Her school is a secondary school in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany serving the children of British military families stationed in the area. It is the largest school in Service Children’s Education and it is the only SCE secondary school in the area and serves children from bases in Bielefeld and Herford. It is situated within Mansergh Barracks, the school buildings were originally barrack blocks but have been modernised throughout to provide spacious teaching accommodation.

It was quite an usual experience to hand in my passport before I could attend and lead the teacher training.

Reduce workload, increase impact!

Over the first day, I worked with approximately 100 colleagues from six different schools across the British Forces region in Germany. I do not recall meeting anyone from outside of the UK, and I’m sure there are native teachers and others from other countries, but it is clear there is a very close community of teachers who have been working within this context for decades. Everyone I spoke to was very positive about the Ministry of Defence experience –  apart from the paperwork which is on top of the typical teaching expectations. There seems to be an awful lot of forms to complete to make things happen!

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Returning to the United Kingdom?

The challenge to update experienced colleagues, some who had worked with the Ministry of Defence for over 30 years and to prepare them for (possible) life back in the United Kingdom was unique. Each member of staff had their own story to tell and with this, a unique job-hunting challenge.

As ever, visiting schools in different countries and in different parts of the United Kingdom, what is apparent to me is that we are all facing the same challenges; the context in which we operate (largely the location) makes each challenge unique. This, therefore, confirms my assumption, that there is no one way to achieve success within a school. Our only hope is to share what we do with one another …

On the second day, I worked with a small group of teachers from some of the 5 or 6 schools. I spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the school site and talking with teachers and pupils.

Beyond this, the context of the classroom, curriculum and qualifications challenges were very unique. Imagine taking on a group of students in examination year groups who would only be with you for one year? Imagine a school where every child has the same home environment? Imagine having a school within an army barracks, but with no perimeter fence? Despite these unusual circumstances, the school still faces OfSTED preferences and a MoD determined to follow detailed paperwork trails.

The two schools that I managed to visit had the opportunity to work in small class sizes and reduced contact-ratios; the schools were equipped with a vast array of resources to enable teachers to meet the needs of their pupils, particularly English as an additional language.

It was an amazing opportunity.

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Schools around the world…

A freedom of information request made in December 2017 lists all the Ministry of Defence schools. I don’t know yet how many of these schools are still open, but I’m going to take a closer look. There appears to be a larger list here on Wikipedia.

  1. Afnorth, Holland
  2. Akrotiri School, Cyprus
  3. Ayios Nikolaos School, Cyprus
  4. Attenborough School, Sennelager, Germany
  5. British Forces School, Naples, Italy
  6. Bielefeld School, Germany
  7. Bishopspark School, Paderborn, Germany
  8. Dhekelia School, Cyprus
  9. Episkopi School, Cyprus
  10. Haig School, Gütersloh, Germany
  11. Hornbill School, Brunei
  12. John Buchan School, Sennelager, Germany
  13. King’s School, Gütersloh, Germany
  14. King Richard School, Cyprus
  15. Mount Pleasant School, Falkland Islands
  16. Queen Victoria School, Dunblane, Scotland (currently under construction)
  17. SHAPE School, Belgium
  18. St Christopher’s FS, Gibraltar
  19. St David’s School, Ramtein, Germany
  20. St Johns School, Cyprus
  21. The full lists is available here.

Thank you to headteacher Emma Bryson and her colleagues for making me feel so welcome – and that I had something to offer and support them on their transition to the next chapter. Whereever you find yourselves working in over the coming years, I wish you all the very best for this academic year …

A special thank you to the Turner family for looking after me.

@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account in which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated for '500 Most Influential People in Britain' in The Sunday Times as one of the most influential in the field of education - he remains the only classroom teacher to feature to this day ... Sharing online as @TeacherToolkit, he rebuilt this website (c2008) into what you are now reading, as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK', winning the number one spot at the UK Blog Awards (2018). Today, he is currently a PGCE tutor and is researching 'social media and its influence on education policy' for his EdD at Cambridge University. In 1993, he started teaching and is an experienced school leader working in some of the toughest schools in London. He is also a former Teaching Awards winner for 'Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School, London' (2004) and has written several books on teaching (2013-2018). Read more...

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