What is it like to teach in a school in Cyprus?
This week, I had the priviledge of visiting Akrotiri Primary School, in Akrotiri, Cyprus. The school with ~500 pupils on roll serves the families of those working in the Royal Air Force at the British military base on the southern tip of Cyprus.
Talking with teachers and pupils…
As the crow flies, Cyprus sits 50 miles West of Syria and 230 miles North of Egypt. I was visiting Cyprus for three days to work with headteacher Ben Turner and colleagues from across the local region.
On day one, I shared the insights from my new research, Just Great Teaching, offering high-end teaching and learning research, psychological insights and cognitive scientific strategies for classroom teachers. I spent the morning visiting classrooms from early years (foundation stage) to year six, talking with support staff, teachers and pupils.
On day two, I spent the morning visiting two other schools in Episkopi, about a thirty-minute drive out of Akrotiri up into the hills where roads bend and cling on the twisting coastline. Both Episkopi Primary School and St. John’s Secondary School share the same location (another British military zone) facing the Meditteranean Sea. In the afternoon, I worked with another 40-50 colleagues, sharing the findings from the Verbal Feedback Project, the methodology and the toolkit of resources use to equip teachers a) to reduce the burden of written marking and b) develop teachers as critical action researchers in the classroom.
Developing teaching and learning
Developing rigorous teaching and learning and a collective teacher efficacy culture remains a challenge for all of us.
In all three schools that I visited, the headteachers have just started working at the school having moved from headships with the Ministry of Defence (from schools no longer needed) in Germany. Despite a wealth of experience, each headteacher faces their own unique circumstances, each with a vast range of resources on offer to develop and nurture. These scenarios range from developing ‘forest schools’ – my new favourite thing – to developing the land use within the school, an outdoor swimming pool to a curriculum which offers Greek as a language.
The school day
The school day at Akrotiri Primary starts at 07:45 AM and ends at 13:30 PM. Although I only experienced three school days and my body clock had not yet adjusted to the timezone, in some respects, it felt as though teachers had the full day ahead of them to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle the climate had to offer.
At the end of day one, I enjoyed some quiet time at a secluded beach with nobody else splashing in the waters. At the end of day two, fresh fish in a local restaurant sitting at the edge of the beach. I suspect many teachers working overseas enjoy this lifestyle after working hours, especially those who have young families.
The government writes about Education overseas for service children:
“The diverse locations of our schools and the dedication of our staff ensure pupils engage in a rich and fulfilling curriculum whilst overseas. Ministry of Defence Schools mirrors the English education system including Ofsted inspections, assessments and examinations.”
Note, there are other locations around the world where service personnel and their families may be posted, which are not served by a MOD school. When I last visited an MoD school in Germany, I discovered that there were a small number of schools across the world supporting British Force families. There are five fewer schools than last year.
- Afnorth, Holland
- Akrotiri School, Cyprus
- Ayios Nikolaos School, Cyprus
- Attenborough School, Sennelager, Germany
- British Forces School, Naples, Italy
- Dhekelia School, Cyprus
- Episkopi School, Cyprus
- Hornbill School, Brunei
- King Richard School, Cyprus
- Mount Pleasant School, Falkland Islands
- Queen Victoria School, Dunblane, Scotland
- SHAPE School, Belgium
- St Christopher’s Foundation School, Gibraltar
- St David’s School, Ramtein, Germany
- St Johns School, Cyprus
The challenge for the MoD and the teachers who work within them, is operating successfully with a high degree of autonomy amongst teachers which, due to the nature of working in the military, can see pupils move regularly within the academic year. This interest led me to a touch of research to unpick the pros and cons of teaching in the MoD and what educational outcomes young people are achieving.
Research to consider…
I started with an initial look back at John Hattie’s visible learning research and his 252 effect sizes. Although I was aware that pupil outcomes are hindered when young people ‘move between schools’ (-0.34), I had not realised that when parents are involved in the military, ‘parental military deployment’ (-0.16), that pupils’ outcomes are also influenced. In some respects I should have known this, having family members that once attended Akrotiri Primary School in the 1990s and spent much of their educational life in military schools.
I dug a little further into other sources.
A paper called Psychiatric Effects of Military Deployment on Children and Families, James and Countryman, 2012 references those working in the USA military. “More than two million United States children have been affected directly by a parent’s deployment… The effect of parental deployment in previous wars has shown children having an increase in behavioural problems.”
Although the United Kingdom is not ‘at war’, I suspect there are some pockets of the world where our military is on standby. Due to the nature of the job, I suspect we will always have young people experiencing these effects whilst an immediate parent is deployed. My question is, are those teaching in our MOD schools aware of these scenarios, and have they seen any of these problems in the young people they have taught? I suspect so…
This research suggests “Children of deployed parents are known to have increased mental healthcare needs.” (Hisle-Gorman et al, Impact of Parents’ Wartime Military Deployment and Injury on Young Children’s Safety and Mental Health. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2015) This meta-analysis suggests, “There is evidence that military service increases the risk of psycho-social burden for not only service members but also their spouses and children” (Cunitz et al, Parental military deployment as risk factor for children’s mental health, 2019). The results suggest that children of a military-deployed parent should be assessed for emotional and behavioural problems.
One final article suggests that “Students who have [Australian] parents deployed to a war zone are more vulnerable to a range of psychological, emotional and social issues… The study highlighted that students in military families experience more depressive symptoms than non-military students, however, they were able to cope with deployment-related stress when adults in their school provided them with emotional support and encouragement” (Macdonald and Boon, 2018). As a word of caution, I would take a closer look at the research before making any assumptions about those working in the British Forces and what impact this has on military pupils and the quality of teaching in MOD schools.
Despite the challenges working for the military brings to young people, there are countless perks for teachers who choose to work within this context. The lifestyle is of high quality and costs of living are generally good in comparison to terms and conditions in England.
Why teach in the UK?
Workload and wellbeing is a challenge for all of us, but when you are faced with a warmer climate, a better quality of food and working conditions that are not only better for yourself and your family, you can understand why this community of educators are thriving – despite diminishing resources.
At a system level, I am starting to understand why so many British teachers are choosing to vote with their feet and teach abroad. Apart from a brief teaching spell in Nigeria, this is one aspect of my teaching career I have not yet fulfilled which still resonates with me today. At the time of writing and in the global economy where you and I can reach any part of the world in less than one day, having now observed teaching in twelve different countries, our English government has to work much harder to make teaching an attractive career at home.
I look forward to my next experience of working with teachers and schools leaders in Cyprus, or in the other parts of the world. At the time of writing, plans are in motion for me to visit Belgium ad work with teachers are SHAPE. The Falkland Islands would certainly be a fascinating experience…