Education overseas: What you need to know
By Tor Johnson, RAF FF Dispersed Families Project Manager
Following on from my article on medical care in our autumn edition, we now turn our attention to education options during overseas assignments with the RAF.
Should we stay or should we go?
Most parents will consider their children’s education to be an important factor in deciding whether to volunteer for an overseas assignment. As parents it is your responsibility to research options and decide on school preferences.
As with healthcare, education provision varies considerably between locations, so it is important that families take the time to research what will be on offer before volunteering for a posting overseas.
Where to start?
Your first port of call should be the ‘Education overseas for service children’ webpage. This page lists the Ministry of Defence (MOD) Schools across the world, including age ranges and school websites where available. MOD Schools tend to be located in areas with higher numbers of UK military personnel; for example Cyprus and the Falkland Islands. However in some areas only Early Years or Primary schooling is provided.
If your location is not covered by an MOD school then you can also check on this page whether an assessment has been carried out to identify suitable schools in the area, called an Educational Suitability Review (ESR). A wide range of locations are covered by ESRs, including specific parts of Australia, Saudi Arabia, the USA, and Canada. If your posting location is listed then you can request a copy of the ESR from the Children’s Education Advisory Service (CEAS): [email protected]
If your location is not listed on the website then you should contact the CEAS on the email address above to discuss options.
Other sources of information
• If there is an RAF or Army HIVE Information Centre at the overseas location then they will be able to provide information on local schooling.
• Some countries have dedicated websites and social media groups for UK military personnel overseas, such as BFGnet for Germany and bdsus.info for the USA. You may want to ask your predecessor for advice on the most reliable sources of information.
• Local information for some more isolated postings is provided in the form of a local guide (e.g. ‘blue book’); in this case your Career Manager will be able to tell you how to obtain a copy.
What types of school might be available to us?
MOD Schools aim to provide education equivalent to that in the UK, following the English curriculum and undergoing Ofsted inspections.
Parents whose children attended MOD schools were most satisfied with quality of education in our survey, with 91% saying that they were either satisfied or very satisfied.
In our recent survey of families on overseas assignments, 49% of respondents moved abroad with school-aged children.
MOD schools offer English assessments and examinations, with the intention of supporting smooth transition to and from UK-based schools. All overseas MOD schools are listed on the ‘ Education overseas for service children’ webpage.
Local state provided education will generally be available to families travelling to a country where the first language is English, unless an ESR finds that local schools are incompatible with the UK education system. Parents should understand that even where an ESR deems local schooling to be appropriate, a British National Curriculum will not be followed. Hence their child may be taught using different methods, and sequence or content of topics may vary significantly. Children may also be expected to start education at a different age to that in the UK, potentially meaning a later or earlier school entry point for your child moving compared to the UK, or a change in year group.
The impact of this will vary between children, and it is therefore up to the parents to consider how well their child might both adjust and subsequently reintegrate into the UK education system. The ESR will include details about education in that country or region, and in-depth information on a selection of schools in a specific area. You should note that CEAS do not make recommendations for you to choose one school over another.
Where English is not spoken as the first language, or where state provided education is found not to be suitable through an ESR, local private education is offered where appropriate – for example through international schools. Broadly speaking international schools will cover the curriculum from a specified country; for schools not following a British curriculum parents will need to consider the impact of any differences, as identified for state provided education above. The general education costs are eligible for refund through your local unit HR, however there may be additional costs associated with sending your child to a private school which you will need to factor in. Further advice on this can be obtained from CEAS
Once you have found further information about the school or schools available to you it is up to you, as parents, to decide whether any suit your child or children. The CEAS has provided a useful guide to help with this decision, called ‘Moving Schools – A Parent’s Guide’, including a list of questions that you can refer to when looking at school websites or contacting them directly.
Some additional considerations to bear in mind:
• Tour length and child’s age: CEAS will consider children’s making a recommendation of educational supportability to the Chain of Command. For example, will your child be mid-way through their GCSE syllabus when you are due to return? If so then you should not assume that an extension will be given to keep them in their overseas setting. Parents should consider the impact on educational qualifications, either currently being undertaken, what qualifications will likely to be gained in the assignment location or the impact of leaving a location mid-qualification period.
• SEND: Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities may be supported in some locations, but more evidence will need to be considered before a decision can be made. Whilst this should not deter you from applying it is worth taking extra time to research schools’ ability to support specific needs, and allowing extra time in the process where possible (CEAS advise 9 weeks). If your child has an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP) this will cease when they leave the UK and will need reassessment upon their return.
• Travelling times: If accommodation will be allocated to you and you know a likely location, then you will also want to consider the time taken to get to and from school. Where the school is not located close to the accommodation you may wish to ask if any transport is provided.
• Admissions: Is your chosen school likely to have places in your required year groups? Do you have a suitable second choice if they cannot accommodate your child?
What if none of the local options seem suitable?
If, having researched local school options, you do not feel that these would be suitable for your child then you may wish to consider using Continuity of Education (CEA) allowance to access boarding schools in the UK. Families may choose boarding school education for one or all of their children, depending on each child’s stage of education and needs.
If you are interested in finding out more about CEA and boarding options then you should contact CEAS for more information.
Some families also consider Elective Home Education, or home-schooling, for their children during an overseas assignment. As detailed in the regulations (JSP 342, Sect 5), authority to Home Educate in the assignment location will need to be obtained from the receiving overseas Command. Parents who choose to home educate are to accept full responsibility for providing the education, and are responsible for the full costs of that provision. If you have not previously home-schooled your children then you are strongly advised to research the topic thoroughly, and consider how this would ages at tour end when work in practice in a different country.
You’ve made your decision – what next?
Families with children aged between 0 and 18 must undergo an educational assessment process, to ensure that their learning needs can be met at that location. Your assignment location will determine who carries out the educational clearance process:
• If you are assigned to an area supported by an MOD School, it is the MOD School itself who carries out the clearance.
• If you are assigned to an area that does not have MOD Schools, then the clearance process is carried out by the Children’s Education Advisory Service.
CEAS provide advice and guidance to the Chain of Command on any identified educational risks for the child, taking into account all information provided on a Parental Declaration form and any supporting documents.
On receipt of an Assignment Order you will be advised to contact the Families Section at Abbey Wood. Families travelling with children under 19 will be issued a Travel Pack containing information on what is required, together with all of the required clearance documents and details of the process to be followed.
You will need to send the relevant clearance documents to either the receiving MOD School or CEAS, dependent on the location to which you are assigned. For children currently in education, a Pupil Information Profile (PIP) should be completed by their school and submitted alongside the other forms.
A recommendation can be sought within six months of assignment date, and can take up to nine weeks. One of the following recommendations is made to the Chain of Command:
Educational supportability confirmed
For non-MOD schools you will need to apply for school places separately. However you should be wary of paying any deposits or other expenses before you have all necessary clearances in place.
Some countries – such as Australia – require additional vaccinations for children attending local schools which are supplementary to the UK schedule. Wherever possible you should check this in advance and ensure that your children are fully vaccinated before departure.
Educational supportability not confirmed
On occasion CEAS may make a recommendation to the Chain of Command that a child cannot be supported through local schools. For example if their SEND needs cannot be met, or the education provided would cause the child to fall behind their peers in the UK. If this happens to you then it is important to recognise that this advice is given in your child’s best interest, and is specific only to that location.
Support whilst overseas and returning to the UK
Out of sight does not mean out of mind! If you are having issues with schooling overseas – or during your return to the UK – then the usual points of contact are available to you:
CEAS: [email protected] or 01980 618244.
You can contact CEAS if you have concerns about the local education provision or questions about CEA. They can also assist with questions about returning to the UK, especially if you have a child with SEND. CEAS run a helpline within office hours but also have an answer machine outside of the helpline hours.
It is recommended that you contact them via email as you will be able to provide more detailed information, which helps CEAS to give a more detailed response.
RAF Families Federation: +44 (0) 1780 781650. Don’t forget that you can also use the ‘Report an Issue’ form on our website if you need help. We can assist you via email, so distance and time difference doesn’t need to be a barrier.
Other information on this topic:
On the web:
RAF FF Education pages
Children’s Education Advisory Service (CEAS)
Envoy and news stories:
‘Children’s Education Advisory Service’: P.26 Envoy, Autumn 2019
‘Medical care on overseas assignments – what you need to know’: P.47 Envoy, Autumn 2019
‘My child has SEND, We’re moving back to UK… Help!’: RAF FF news story, June 2019
‘Supporting our armed forces children in schools’: RAF FF news story, March 2019
JSP 342 Education of Service Children and Young People
JSP 752 Tri-Service Regulations for Expenses and Allowances
JSP 770 Tri-Service Operational and Non-Operational Welfare Policy (MODNet access only).
JSP 820 Tri-Service Disability and Additional Needs Policy
This news story is included in the Winter edition of Envoy magazine – the free magazine for RAF personnel and your families too. You can sign up online to have your own copy sent to your home (quarterly).
Top image: ©Crown Copyright (SAC K Waterson)