As this edition reaches you, hundreds of Service children will be starting a new school and some will be waving goodbye to their families as they pack up to board. Army&You spoke to a teacher, children and parents to discuss the unique challenges that military children face in their school lives…
OFSTED recommended in 2011 that children with a parent in the Armed Forces should receive extra support.
It recognised that frequent moves and having mum or dad away can impact on pupils’ emotional wellbeing. The report said: “Education is disturbed, social networks are disrupted and parents left behind have to cope with the effects of being a single parent.”
Moira Leslie, Education Progamme Manager at the Royal Caledonian Education Trust, which raises awareness of these issues in Scotland, agrees.
“Often, schools overlook the need for a child to have time to not only come to terms with the loss of their previous school, home and friends but also to establish a sense of belonging to their new environment,” she said.
The good news is that the introduction of the Service Pupil Premium, the £300 per Service child given to schools to assist with pastoral care, has gone some way to help in English state schools when put to good use.
Northern Ireland has a similar scheme and support in place and SCE schools overseas are experienced in dealing with common issues.
The latest available statistics from the Department for Education show that Service children perform at least equal to their peers. AFF is working with research organisations to review these statistics.
Cameron Samuel is just beginning Year 10 in his eighth school. He highlighted how important it is for schools to understand the challenges of Army life no matter how many Service children they have.
“One school I attended only had one other Army child,” he explained.
“At that time my dad deployed and they were completely unsympathetic towards anything Army related, how I might have moody days or sad days. In fact, during that time was when I got my first detention!”
Sixth form student Siobhan Thurgood has lived in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Wiltshire and Germany following her dad’s Army career.
She said: “In Germany, I attended Kings School in Gütersloh and found they were used to dealing with ‘new kids’ constantly coming and going. I settled in really well and liked the fact that everyone had moved around and experienced the same things as me.
“Having friends across the globe and moving often has helped develop my confidence with new people and surroundings. I am very proud to say my dad is in the Army.”
Le Cateau Primary School in Catterick is taking in more than 100 new Service pupils this September with families rebasing from Germany and Cyprus.
With more than 70 per cent of children from Service families, the school is already well-drilled in welcoming the military population.
“Upon arrival, the main aim is to get the children settled in, ensure they are paired up with a buddy and that they feel a part of the school,” said headmaster Ian Mottram.
“A number of staff members are from Service families, which aids the understanding of what the children are going through. I have appointed five new members of staff who have rebased to Catterick too,” he added.
Both parents and pupils agree that Le Cateau sets a good example of best practice. One parent, whose child has special educational needs, said: “When my daughter, who suffers with anxiety, came home and said ‘I feel like I have been here forever!’, I knew I had made the right choice.”
Families who have enjoyed the stability of remaining in one place for longer can still find their children unsettled.
Nine-year-old Henry hasn’t moved primary schools since his dad took up a posting at Army Headquarters five years ago. However, his good friends have moved away due to Service life.
He said: “It’s worrying because that person has been your best friend for a long time and you don’t know whether you’re going to find a new friend that’s like them.”
Stability through boarding
Children at boarding school are less likely to have these worries as most of their peers will stick around throughout their school life.
But being away from your parents brings added pressure, particularly if they are stationed overseas. Diane Weir’s children, James, 13, and Henry, 10 (left), travel back to Germany during school holidays. Henry admitted the long journeys were a test at first.
“Travelling without your mum and dad is a bit strange,” he said. “I get really excited when I have holidays off school and love spending time with all my own things.”
“Being a boarder has meant I get to keep my friends for longer,” said James. “Living in a different country to my parents is fun but I do get homesick at times. School treats us the same as every other overseas student.”
Support is out there
The MOD’s Department for Children & Young People works closely with schools to ensure Service children aren’t disadvantaged and is currently developing a Pupil Information Profile, which should help when children are transferring between schools by identifying their current and future learning needs.
Its Education Support Fund also provides extra funding for schools who wish to bid for it.
AFF’s Education Specialist Lucy Scott believes that, on the whole, schools now have better understanding of Army life.
She said: “Based on the evidence from our Excellence Award over the last three years, I think the support for Service children in some schools is outstanding.
“It’s clear that many schools grasp the unique needs of a Service child and offer comprehensive pastoral care and we have many examples to share for those schools which are not yet so experienced.”
What can parents do?
Wherever you’re based, tell your school that your child has a parent in the Armed Forces and inform them when your soldier is away, even if it’s only for a short spell. If the school is aware, it will help staff to understand your child’s background, support them through transition and recognise any changes.
If you have any concerns or questions about your child’s education, contact Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org
MOD Children’s Education Advisory Service: +44 (0)1980 618244
Education Support Fund: via www.gov.uk
Service Pupil Premium information: www.aff.org.uk
Royal Caledonian Education Trust: www.rcet.org.uk