Teachers in smaller communities such as Gibraltar can face different pressures to those experienced by colleagues in the UK, according to psychology teacher Natalie Cocklan.
Natalie, who has taught students at Gibraltar College for 14 years, said living in such a close-knit community did mean she saw her students and their families “everywhere that you go”.
This could also mean sometimes she would be approached away from school and contacted on her home phone by parents asking for advice and help, who get her number out of the phone directory.
The 37-year-old NASUWT member was explaining some of the pressures that can come with working in a small community like Gibraltar, which has two comprehensive schools and a further education college.
There are also a handful of primary and middle schools serving a population of around 34,000 people who live in the densely-populated 2.6 square-mile British Overseas Territory.
“We do have the pressures of living in a small community,” Natalie said. “You will leave work and you will bump into students and their families everywhere that you go. I have had phone calls from parents asking for advice, asking for help at home because they have found me in the phone directory as they know where I live.”
The Gibraltarian said one big difference for teachers in terms of workload compared to England was not having to deal with Ofsted - as inspection and accountability are dealt with by the Department for Education: “We don’t have Ofsted. That is the biggest advantage.
“The Department of Education can come and see our teaching but I don’t think Ofsted is needed because we are such a small community I think the Department of Education is fully aware of what is going on within the schools.
“We don’t have those pressures. We could get a visit from the Department but at no point do they turn up unannounced and demand to see evidence of teaching, at least not in my experience.”
Natalie said she went into teaching following her psychology degree after initially believing she would become a clinical psychologist. But at 19 she found herself working with people with severe mental illnesses on a student placement, some of whom committed suicide, and she felt that the clinical field wasn’t for her.
After considering educational psychology she became interested in teaching which she found she really enjoyed: “I decided I would be better suited to working day to day as an educator than doing assessments. So while it wasn’t my initial career choice I found I really, really enjoyed teaching.”
Natalie said the nature of her subject and her students are the aspects she most loves about teaching.
She said: “When you see that moment of realisation when it sinks in and they get it, that is very rewarding. Many of them tell me they do use psychology on their families. I am not convinced the families like it that much! But if they apply it then they have understood it.”
The importance of children learning Spanish was very important she said, particularly with many children not being as fluent as their parents and grandparents.
“We are finding as a teaching profession that the younger generation are not as fluent and many cannot speak Spanish.
“All lessons are taught in English but we do and try and teach some Spanish in the primary schools because we understand that the more languages somebody speaks the better. Children who learn other languages at a younger age are more likely to be fluent as they get older.”
She added: “I think ideally you would have more language in schools but other subjects do take priority in the curriculum.”
Natalie was speaking as Gibraltar is about to undergo some radical changes in its education system, termed the Education Revolution by the government.
This September will see a move from single-sex teaching to co-educational teaching in secondary schools, as well as key stage changes meaning children will go to secondary school in Year 7, as in the UK, instead of year 8.
There will also be brand new schools built to replace many of the older schools, which are in ageing buildings. New vocational pathways are also on the horizon as well.
The changes are welcome in the teaching profession but there is some apprehension that the changes are being all pushed through at once in a short space of time.
Natalie said: “There is some apprehension in the teaching profession, not because we disagree with the changes – no one would argue that co-ed is a bad thing and everyone is embracing that and it makes a lot of sense to have the whole key stage in one institution and not broken up between middle schools and primary schools.
“We will embrace the changes but there is always a bit of apprehension when there is change and everyone wants to feel ready for these changes.”