Imagine teaching where your school goes into lockdown, not because of Covid, but because an unauthorised aircraft has flown on to the site. This is one example of the unique challenges that can come from working in service children’s education.
This often little known sector of education has provided a career of adventure and culture for NASUWT member Lynn Rowles (pictured above) who is shortly to retire after spending 36 years working abroad teaching the children of military and defence personnel.
Lynn’s career has taken her to four different service children’s schools across Germany and The Netherlands and during which time she witnessed first-hand the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.
Attracted to the idea of living and working abroad, working for service children’s education was suggested by a colleague in her first teaching role at a school in London. In her early 20s at the time, Lynn soon found herself being posted to Berlin to work as an early years teacher at Gatow First School.
A school for the children of RAF personnel, one of the biggest differences was the constant turnover of new arrivals and departures from her class as pupils’ families moved from base to base.
“There was constant movement within the school, particularly within the RAF as the families are posted individually, they don’t all move as a unit” she says. “So children are leaving their homes, their friends, and their extended family.”
“They are coming into a totally new setting where they don’t know anyone at all so when they come you just have to make them feel as happy and settled as possible.
“I have seen research that said that every time a child moves they can lose up to six months of education so in order to mitigate against that you have to get them settled as quickly as you can.”
Lynn’s time in the city coincided with the enormous cultural and political revolution surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“When I first arrived Berlin was a divided city. We lived in West Berlin but were able to drive into East Berlin by going through Checkpoint Charlie. You couldn’t just go there, you had to get the correct forms, you weren’t allowed to step out of the car and had to put your passport up to the window to show the officers at the barrier. You only had a certain number of hours you were allowed to be there.”
She describes East Berlin as like stepping back in time, saying: “It was very different; people dressed differently, shopped differently to how they did in the west. It was like 1950’s Britain.”
She remembers being completely taken aback by the sudden fall of the Wall. “We were watching it on the news and we had the dilemma of do we go down there? But I was due to have an HMI inspection at school the next day so I didn’t as I thought I should go to bed and get into school early. On arriving at school the next day, there was a rumour that the inspectors hadn’t thought quite the same and had themselves gone down to the wall the night before.”
Lynn did get her chance to taste a slice of history, visiting the wall in the days after and witnessing what she describes as joyous scenes.
After working in a number of MOD schools in Germany, Lynn is ending her career teaching at the Afnorth International School in The Netherlands where she moved in 2002. Afnorth is a NATO school and she now teaches pupils from a range of different nationalities. As an early years teacher she has to work simultaneously on developing basic communication skills in her pupils with the added challenge that many do not speak English when they join.
Looking back on her time in service education, Lynn says it has provided her with wonderful experiences and memories.
“I have never, ever regretted it. It has been incredible, the opportunities for learning about other people, for learning about other cultures and to travel. The schools are well-established, with really good resources and good teacher/pupil ratios. In addition service children are a joy to teach.”
She does not hesitate in recommending a career in service children’s education to other teachers.
“You have to accept you are going to be away from family, but if you have a sense of adventure, a sense of wanting something different but still operating within the English school system and National Curriculum, I would say definitely go for it.”
Service Children’s Education
MOD schools exist in many countries around the world, including Germany, Cyprus, Brunei, Italy, Belgium, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar and The Netherlands.
The NASUWT now represents the vast majority of the teaching staff working within these schools and continues to offer casework support and advice to SCE teachers wherever they are in the world. The Union has been advocating for safe working conditions for members throughout the pandemic, as well as continuing to pursue improvements to teachers’ pay and conditions which reflect the unique challenges and circumstances of working within SCE.