Teaching on the Falkland Islands

Written by: HTU | Published:

Tom Hill has been head of a 260-pupil infant and junior school delivering the English curriculum for two years. Nothing unusual about that – other than its location. Emma Lee Potter caught up with him

On a windswept archipelago 8,000 miles away from the UK, Tom Hill reckons he’s got one of the best teaching jobs in the world.

The scenery is breathtaking, the air is clear and there are no traffic jams. His office is just 100 yards from the South Atlantic and the coast is studded with spectacular wildlife, from penguins and seals to sea lions and dolphins.

For the past two years, Mr Hill has been headteacher of the 260-pupil Stanley Infant and Junior School on the Falkland Islands. Earlier this year islanders voted overwhelmingly to keep their current status as a British overseas territory and Falkland Islands children will continue to receive the same education as their peers in the UK.

Mr Hill is also head of Camp Education, which means that he is responsible for five small settlement schools on the islands (some of which are so remote that they only have seven or eight pupils), the travelling teacher service and the telephone teacher service.

There are currently three travelling teachers on the Falklands, with a fourth being appointed for the coming academic year.

The travelling teachers work on a “beat” system. They move from farm to farm, staying with local families and spending two weeks at a time teaching pupils at each settlement school.

Then, for the next four weeks, the settlement school children are taught via the telephone teacher service. Thirty years ago this was done with two metre radios but today the children talk to their teachers by telephone and, increasingly, via the internet. They dial into a conference call to access their lessons.

“Our results are impressive, well above the UK average for the last three years,” said Mr Hill, who is charge of everything from the curriculum to staffing. We deliver the national curriculum, with a Falklands flavour, and our pupils take key stage 1 and 2 SATs in the same way as all UK children. We also have Ofsted, but only once every three years – and by appointment!

“With small class sizes (30 is the maximum but most classes are under 20) and good support assistants, it is easier to deliver focused learning here than in many less resourced schools I have worked in.”

Mr Hill took up his role on the Falklands in 2011. Before that he was head of three primary schools in Wiltshire and also trained as a National College facilitator. “I’m responsible for everything you’d expect of the headteacher of a group of schools,” he explained.

“The difference is that our schools are scattered across a very wide geographical area indeed. It’s an hour by light aircraft between our furthest locations – and whole days by Land Rover. But it makes for a fascinating challenge and I really enjoy the travel and the opportunities to meet and get to know the people of the islands.”

Around half the infant and junior teachers are Falkland Islanders, while half have moved out from the UK. All the staff, however, are required to have PGCE qualifications – and to have worked in UK schools (or equivalent) before taking up their posts, preferably for at least three years.

Asked about the appeal of working so far away from home, Mr Hill didn’t hesitate for a moment: “It’s the space, the wildlife, the travel, the opportunities to do my job in a different set of circumstances, but most of all the people,” he said.

“Falkland Islanders are very special indeed, as anyone who has ever visited will tell you. They are hospitable, honest (there’s no crime here) and living here means that you are part of a vibrant, self-supporting community.”

The only drawback he can think of is that it often takes a long time for teaching resources to arrive – up to a month for overseas orders.

The infant and junior school is based in Stanley, the capital of the Falklands. Not surprisingly, the pupils spend far more time outdoors than children in the UK and are used to seeing whales, sea lions, penguins and a host of endangered birds.

“Stanley is small, but it’s not rural,” explained Mr Hill. “We have all the main services of any middle-sized market town in the UK and as it’s the capital it is also the seat of government, with law courts and an airport.

“Camp is the term for all locations outside Stanley and the camp schools are in a variety of settings – on remote sheep-scattered hillsides, in the soft valleys of the west, on the plains of the east or in the centre of Goose Green, the site of the famous battle in 1982. You’re never far from the sea in the Falklands though and even the youngest children can tell an albatross from any type of seabird.”

Not surprisingly, IT is crucial, particularly for the travelling teachers and the pupils at the settlement schools. “IT is really starting to come into its own for distance learning,” said Mr Hill. “We have had a high level of technical ability for many years in Stanley, but in camp there can be issues with simple things, like the electrical supply in small communities. For example, if there is shearing going on, the cutters will be using all the power and very occasionally we might have to turn the computers off.”

Teachers on the islands also exchange ideas, strategies and CPD approaches with teachers in the UK online. Not only that, five teachers have recently completed the Middle Leadership Development Programme, while another is halfway through her National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH).

Mr Hill himself is a keen Twitter user and writes a weekly headteacher’s blog on the school website. His posts range from marking the 30th anniversary of the end of the Falklands War to an account of a group of year 2s rescuing a baby bird that had fallen from the guttering outside their classroom.

When pupils get to the age of 11 they move to the Falkland Islands Community School in Stanley. The island’s only secondary school, it has its own headteacher and around 150 pupils from year 7 through to year 11. In term-time the children from remote parts of the islands board at Stanley House, which opened in 1982.

Like the infant and junior school, the secondary school broadly follows the English national curriculum, with “appropriate amendments” to incorporate Falkland Islands’ history, geography and culture. Once they reach 16, many head to the UK. The Falkland Islands government funds post-16 education, so students either study A levels at Peter Symonds College in Winchester or go to Chichester College to do National Diplomas or NVQs. The government also funds higher education places.



Two days in the life of Tom Hill

Last Tuesday I worked a full day at school in Stanley, taught a maths lesson with one of the year 4 classes, attended meetings and worked on the school budget before getting into a Land Rover in the afternoon and heading over-land to New Haven. My journey took me through the mountains around Stanley, the scene of some of the fiercest battles of the 1982 conflict (there are still landmines in some areas – carefully fenced in).

I drove past the large and impressive Military Airbase at Mount Pleasant then stopped briefly at Goose Green before arriving at New Haven. I took the ferry from there, (escorted by a pod of dolphins) and arrived in the beautiful settlement of Port Howard, which has its own small school. After delivering some resources, I had dinner with some local farmers and discussed their prospects at the next day’s ram sale, before turning in early.

I was up early on the Wednesday morning and on my way to the school at Fox Bay, via the small settlement of Little Chartres where a member of the Camp Education staff has a smallholding.

At Fox Bay School, I undertook some lesson observations, worked with the children in their science lesson and met parents to discuss teaching arrangements for the next academic year. I also met the government’s agent in the settlement who is helping to arrange a new playground for the school. It needs a good fence because most lightweight play equipment will blow away in a moderate Fox Bay breeze.

By 4:30pm I was back in the Land Rover and on my way back up country to catch the last ferry. During the 90-minute journey, I didn’t see another vehicle or person, which isn’t unusual. I made it in time for the boat and returned through a turbulent sea to arrive back in Stanley well after dark.



Teaching in the Falkland Islands

If you are interested in teaching in the Falkland Islands, January is the best time to apply – to start work in September. Relocation is financed by the Falkland Islands’ government.

Salaries are slightly higher than in the UK and tax is considerably lower. Flights to the UK for staff and their families are paid for yearly for contracted staff (who are also paid a 25 per cent bonus on completion of a two-year contract).

Look out for advertisements in the press or email Mr Hill directly. His details are on the Stanley Infant and Junior School website at www.ijs.falklands.info.

• Emma Lee Potter is a freelance education journalist.

PHOTO CAPTION: Tom Hill is pictured during a year 6 trip to Swan Inlet on the Falkland Islands


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