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That old question has been doing the rounds again, wot the Dickens is a British School, anyway?

Discussion in 'Teaching overseas' started by SMT dude, Jun 25, 2008.

  1. SMT dude

    SMT dude New commenter

    Unless you?re wintering among, say, the Aussies or the Argies, the end is in sight, but there?s still some verbosity latent in your keyboard after exam setting and report writing.

    So let?s hear from you.

    Now, the ?overseas? circuit is crawling with British international schools. Some fly the flag in their title: ?Colegio Británico del Gran Carajo?, ?British International School of Ruritania?. Others stake a claim by adopting a British luminary: ?Newton Academy?, ?Lycée Alex Ferguson?. Or a venerable seat of learning: ?The Cambridge School, Ulaanbaatar?, ?Greyfriars College, Brazzaville?. Others duck the issue with a neutral saintly or topographical name: ?St Hooligan?s School?, ?Blastedheath College?, obscuring the fact that the staff room teems with national curriculum zealots and the car park is thronged with expatriates talking house prices.

    So, what is British about British international schools? The fact that many teachers are refugees from rain, war-zone classrooms and personal crises on the sceptr?d isle? Do the statutes say that seven of the ten members of the Board must be British, even if it means they have to be exhumed for meetings? Is it the presence in class of Charlotte and Rupert, Darren and Kylie? Allegiance to the national curriculum, SATS ?n all? Or that 1953 portrait of sweet Betty Battenberg, mouldering in the library? All those older students wrestling with UCAS? A COBIS logo on the web site?

    Or is it all about values and ethos ? and if so, are we talking imperialism disguised with fair play, are we into parliamentary democracy, does Christian tradition (God forbid) come into the picture or is it a cool post-colonial focus on secular devolved multicultural Ukania? Is a British IB school a contradiction? Can you bin the entire national curriculum and still be British?

    What do parents of other origins think they are buying into, when they send their little bunnies to the local ?Breeteesh? institution? Discipline, punctuality, uniform, formal assemblies? Or hands-on learning experiences and loads of co-curricular action, in a liberal collegial atmosphere? Or an end-run around the rigidities of the local curriculum and pedagogy? Or merely status? Or just the chance to make out with our battered but feisty old ***** of a language?

    Your serious opinions, please. Amuse while you pontificate, but refrain if you are a career cynic, a veteran pom-basher, a one-track Celtic nationalist, or a true-blue Brit patriot either of the misty-eyed nostalgic type or of the jingo bulldog kind. Please don?t talk about your penis, or about other contributors? alleged vices and misdemeanours.

    Cheers!

    And happy hols!
     
  2. SMT dude

    SMT dude New commenter

    Unless you?re wintering among, say, the Aussies or the Argies, the end is in sight, but there?s still some verbosity latent in your keyboard after exam setting and report writing.

    So let?s hear from you.

    Now, the ?overseas? circuit is crawling with British international schools. Some fly the flag in their title: ?Colegio Británico del Gran Carajo?, ?British International School of Ruritania?. Others stake a claim by adopting a British luminary: ?Newton Academy?, ?Lycée Alex Ferguson?. Or a venerable seat of learning: ?The Cambridge School, Ulaanbaatar?, ?Greyfriars College, Brazzaville?. Others duck the issue with a neutral saintly or topographical name: ?St Hooligan?s School?, ?Blastedheath College?, obscuring the fact that the staff room teems with national curriculum zealots and the car park is thronged with expatriates talking house prices.

    So, what is British about British international schools? The fact that many teachers are refugees from rain, war-zone classrooms and personal crises on the sceptr?d isle? Do the statutes say that seven of the ten members of the Board must be British, even if it means they have to be exhumed for meetings? Is it the presence in class of Charlotte and Rupert, Darren and Kylie? Allegiance to the national curriculum, SATS ?n all? Or that 1953 portrait of sweet Betty Battenberg, mouldering in the library? All those older students wrestling with UCAS? A COBIS logo on the web site?

    Or is it all about values and ethos ? and if so, are we talking imperialism disguised with fair play, are we into parliamentary democracy, does Christian tradition (God forbid) come into the picture or is it a cool post-colonial focus on secular devolved multicultural Ukania? Is a British IB school a contradiction? Can you bin the entire national curriculum and still be British?

    What do parents of other origins think they are buying into, when they send their little bunnies to the local ?Breeteesh? institution? Discipline, punctuality, uniform, formal assemblies? Or hands-on learning experiences and loads of co-curricular action, in a liberal collegial atmosphere? Or an end-run around the rigidities of the local curriculum and pedagogy? Or merely status? Or just the chance to make out with our battered but feisty old ***** of a language?

    Your serious opinions, please. Amuse while you pontificate, but refrain if you are a career cynic, a veteran pom-basher, a one-track Celtic nationalist, or a true-blue Brit patriot either of the misty-eyed nostalgic type or of the jingo bulldog kind. Please don?t talk about your penis, or about other contributors? alleged vices and misdemeanours.

    Cheers!

    And happy hols!
     
  3. TheoGriff

    TheoGriff Star commenter

    You forgot the heraldic coat of arms, loosely based on that of the Duke of Arundel.
     
  4. kemevez

    kemevez Occasional commenter

    Good to see that you have become dee-sha-luz-shyond SMT Dude - because surely that is the point of it all. Your post is very latin-american-british school in its outlook - I'm sure that 90%+ of the little darlings in the British School of Capital City of Former Soviet Republic of Wherever will have read Shakespeare and Pushkin back to front equally - and the man who washes their dog will have read the latter. So your little British School whores in the southern cone or the tropical butterfly lands or the places mistaken by so many as south american are paying for that something? Better question is in my humble opionionesque approach - why do the British pay for their education in the first place - and why are/is the majority of the British workforce in British and/or International Schools those that got it for nowt?
     
  5. Mainwaring

    Mainwaring Established commenter

    Too many themes to contemplate efficiently in the aftermath of last night's Gran Reserva, but a few disconnected jottings not necessarily involving the finite verb:

    It sometimes has to do with roots, in the Haleyan sense. In my first 'Breetish' School, knocking on for 20 years ago, there were precisely four children with mother tongue English (and Mrs M assures me that I'd fathered at least two of them). Not a few others sported very British labels. Frederick Ashton and Piers and Lavinia Bensley-Bromilow were native speakers of castellano but their grandparents had certainly had impeccably home counties credentials.

    In passing, my PA in a Santiago, which is parochial in outlook but cosmopolitan in its streets signage, used to delight in my stubbornly North-Gwalian pronunciation of Calle Llewellyn-Jones.

    That there ol' National Curriculum was often a fertile source of entertainment, with some of the most vocal parents insisting on every jot and tittle, including the hideous SATs. One such zealot amused me when, on returning to UK, she placed her children in Sevenoaks, an IB school whose website loftily declares that they merely 'take note' of the NC. In my experience some of the most stubbornly 'British' parents were pretty Asian ladies married to chaps like me.

    It wasn't just the parents. A HoD English of my acquaintance would insist that the purity of Holy Writ would be compromised if our largely Central American primary school staff failed to teach every unit in the English text book. 'Including the one requiring the children to bring their ice skates to school?' inquired somebody innocently.

    Another of my British colleagues used to insist that all of us were only there among the palms and panama hats because we had blotted our copybooks at home. 'We never dine on steamers/ For they are English ground' he would mutter slyly. I later found out that he'd done time in a South American slammer for child molestation.

    English is certainly a big issue but not the only one. A parent told me his fecklessness about punctuality had once lost him an important contract so he'd put his son in the British School 'to acquire English and learn to arrive on time'.



     
  6. SMT dude

    SMT dude New commenter

    Prudent of you, Cap?n, not to start writing until the Gran Reserva euphoria has abated. The result is amusing and edifying as ever.

    Kemevez, on the other hand, is off topic, preferring the question of private education, in which vice only some 7% of Brits (in the UK) indulge, the rest using state schools, still widely perceived as ?free?. British schools abroad charge fees, usually much less than Sevenoaks, whose attitude to the national curriculum is to be treasured.

    Disillusioned we may all be, but there?s a gloriously romantic notion embedded in K?s magic-realist post. It?s the idea that the dog-washing classes of the former Soviet Union are steeped in Pushkin, thanks to the free education they enjoyed when all was well with their Brezhnev-ruled world.

    Reminded me of the time my Uni girlfriend went to Leningrad, ?twinned? in those distant days with her home town of M********r. This allowed fellow-travelling goons from Town Hall to visit the USSR for ideological uplift while their apparatchik counterparts drooled over consumer goods in the Arndale centre.

    Anyway, she spent ten days in the city of Eugene Onegin, where her first-class brain got washed, bleached and hung out to dry. Returning rather sexily aglow with Marxist-Leninist fervor, one of the things she urged me to believe was that the people of Leningrad, to a man and woman, rushed home from a fulfilling day?s work constructing the industrial base for an ideal society, to spend the night sipping tea over Pushkin and Lermontov.

    She, too, capable of dazzling analysis of Ezra Pound and her beloved (to me, incomprehensible) Rainer Maria Rilke, could not get her head round the idea that we all pay for the education that the state imposes on children while cheekily insisting that it?s not only free but also good for them.

    But we digress. Anyone else on the question of the day ? what makes a school ?British?, and what, these days, do others understand by that term?
     
  7. yasimum

    yasimum New commenter

    God, I wish I had some of your mental energy. I'm so tired I'm lucky if I can sign my name.
     
  8. SMT dude

    SMT dude New commenter

    Hang in there, yazza: hope things are looking up and that the young lady's teeth are mending. My own young lady's mouth is crammed with hardware installed at stupendous cost by an orthodontist with a lucrative line in emotional blackmail.

    Mental energy? I get a surge of it between 4 and 6 in the morning when the day's bullsh*t for the forum and elsewhere is composed: then it's downhill all the way to 6pm when, in that old-world British way, I consider it appropriate to have the first wee drop of Gran Reserva in honour of the Cap'n or Stolichnaya to toast Kemevez. Or just a seventy-cent glass of Super Bock because all this month's salary is in my daughter's mouth.

    Fortunately, signing my name is all I have to do at the moment, on dozens of merit awards and certificates, all to be handed out at a very British ceremony later today. It will be devilish hot this afternoon in Ruritania's capital, but nothing will keep this Brit from donning his dark blue suit for the gig.
     
  9. kemevez

    kemevez Occasional commenter

    Vashé zdorov'ye, dude. Hasta la victoria station siempre!
     
  10. Glad you raised this question. I must admit that I have been very concerned in the last few years about the proliferation of for-profit British schools popping up around the globe.

    My concern has several facets. First of all I am inherently suspicious of the profit motive behind the schools. Sure, there are some for-profit schools which have a genuine concern for the education of children (and the well-being of teachers), but all too many of them are clearly driven by the simple desire to make money.

    Secondly I am concerned by what can be perceived as a kind of "educational colonialism". There is often a sentiment on the part of UK teachers and administrators that the British system is somehow better than any other, and that the locals can only benefit from their exposure to British teachers, the English educational system and the culture of the UK (do we feed them Marmite and HP sauce too?).

    Finally, I am concerned that too many UK teachers feel that British schools overseas are the only way to gain international experience. There is a whole world of well-established, not-for-profit and highly successful international schools all over the world. These schools may have an approach based on that of the United States (or other countries), or they may be dual-language, but generally they offer a much wider variety of teacher background, and usually a much broader range of student nationalities. Most, but not all, offer IB programmes.

    So, I urge that UK teachers looking to work overseas look beyond the TES for job opportunities. Check out The International Educator, register with the Council of International Schools. Even consider International School Services in the USA and you will discover a far wider range of job opportunities than just the British Schools overseas. UK teachers are welcomed in all types of international schools, and, in turn, UK teachers will benefit from being part of a much more diverse faculty. One school with which I am very familiar has teachers from 32 different countries - not to mention well over 50 nationalities in its student poulation of around 950.

    Good luck!


     
  11. kemevez

    kemevez Occasional commenter

    Couldn't agree more, cdrt, on all points. I will happily jump on your bandwagon - and we can even wave cheerily to clovis as we roll by.
     
  12. SMT dude

    SMT dude New commenter

    I also agree with everything cdrt has to say.

    Two or three entrepreneurial fellas have told me over the last year or so, that in the right place and with astute marketing it should be feasible to run a school at a profit of ten or even fifteen percent.

    The intensely British establishment where I have the good fortune to work is not-for-profit and the board of governors is a group of cuddly philanthropists. We budget each year to make 5%, and usually come in a little under. As our non-profit status is official, the taxman guzzles some of the surplus: the rest is put in to a reserve, or re-invested in facilities, or thrown around the staff room like confetti on the last day of term. This is a ?housekeeping?, not a ?business? model.

    After one of the conversations reported above, I enjoyed a geeky, furtive couple of hours with a spreadsheet, to see how this institution might be squeezed to return 15% for a putative owner ? I called him ?Dude? to make it all feel more realistic. Of course I held this nasty solitary session at home, not in the office, and I didn?t get found out, my wife thought I was just looking at pornography so that was OK.

    The grubby little exercise produced no surprises. You can make minor savings here and there on resources, and of course turn off the lights and computers after work, something that is not in the culture here. But with 77% of costs in salaries, and all income in fees, then assuming our fee level is ?correct? for our market and remains the same, if you?re hunting big bucks you have to go straight to salaries and class sizes, reducing one and increasing the other. Eventually you will reach 15% profit and the Dude goes off to the UK on a carpetbagging excursion.

    The school would probably survive, thus altered ? we would of course redouble our efforts to market ourselves as ?British? in every conceivable and contradictory way ? but it would be a very much less comfortable place at all levels.

    I won?t go on ? as Dylan Thomas once said in a pub, ?somebody in here is boring me, and I think it?s me.?

    But cdrt?s wary approach to proprietary establishments seems totally justified, or as the Marxist girlfriend used to say, ?objectively grounded in material reality?.

    Any more views on what makes a school ?British? and what the clients think it means?
     
  13. Mainwaring

    Mainwaring Established commenter

    All of which takes me back to the last years of the Designated Schools Board, a gang of arithmetically challenged bean counters, morris dancers and old pith helmeteers which claimed to 'run' our group of six international schools somewhere in the southern cone of Africa. In fact our particular slice of the fiefdom had already been 'run', to all intents and purposes into the ground, by a small coterie of the former Headmaster's cronies with the aid of copious supplies of a liquid mysteriously 'designated' as MGT.

    There was also a tough, leathery, putatively female Bursar called June, with a voortrekker accent like the crack of a sjambok who would greet prospective parents who interrupted her endless games of patience (oh the irony!) with a friendly 'What the f*** do YOU want?' and who, if she needed to communicate with the Water Board, would bellow down the phone 'I want to talk to the Chief ****.'

    In spite of the fact that the gloriously-situated campus was falling to pieces, we had a maintenance crew (all from the same tribe as the Estate Bursar) which outnumbered the Zambian Army. The day, early in the Summer vacation, when I arrived unexpectedly on the Heinkel from Jo'burg these worthies were in the process of dismantling the girls' hostel roof and passing it piecemeal over the fence to commercially-minded cousins in the neighbouring township. We had painters who painted straight lines resembling the bars on a RNVR officer's sleeve and boilermen who hadn't even seen a boiler but wore smart suits and ran a very efficient loan-sharking business.

    With what LEAs (was it in the Baker days?) used to call 'falling rolls' we were extravagantly over-staffed in almost every subject area. A quick examination of the previous year's phone bill showed 8,000 of our English quids in unpaid personal calls to turf accountants and aunties in Basingstoke and Bognor.

    Our esteemed Bursar was due celebrate her 60th at the end of the coming academic year, so I cryptically wrote 'THE END OF JUNE' in the space for the thirtieth of the sixth. Through the application of Thatcherite stringency we rapidly became much slimmer, fitter and better looking at all levels and in just twelve month we went from break-even to a $500,000 surplus, with the 'rolls' reversing their downward trajectory. Unfortunately the old DSB was still at its last faltering gasp and the Bosnian Serb Head of our sister school, mouthing the old Marxist slogan 'What's yours is mine and what's mine's me own', managed to divert much of the loot in building a perimeter wall costing roughly the same amount as the Great Pyramid of Cheops.

    Does all this rambling have anything to do with Britishness? Well, yes it does in a way.
    Colleagues of various nationalities used to assure me that the cheerful ruthlessness (a man may smile and smile and be a villain) needed for giving both offending and unoffending colleagues the old heave-ho is a VERY British quality.

    'Beware of us Indians,' Colonel Gupta told me in the Delhi Gymkhana Club,' We may stab you in the back. Unlike the British, who'll stab you in the front but always with impeccable courtesy.'
     
  14. Having shared the Latin American experience, I'd like to suggest some or all of the following as possible characteristics of the 'British' school:

    - an air of superiority

    - the whiff of scandal

    - a uniform that makes as few concessions to the local climate and dress code as possible

    - a staffroom characterised by vituperative politics and waspish schadenfreude

    - a staff recruited through the Regents Street offices of Gallivant, Truelove and Truss

    (Captain M: write like that and any egotism is well-earned...)
     
  15. Mainwaring

    Mainwaring Established commenter

    Thanks (I think).

    A nostalgic thread, this one.
    I've known Messrs Grab His Ass and Thing since the days when Peter Gumball was a mint imperial, though I've been persona non-grata there since I blew the whistle on one of their shadier clients.
     
  16. SMT dude

    SMT dude New commenter

    "a staffroom characterised by vituperative politics and waspish schadenfreude."

    That's a beautiful pungent phrase, selfpitycity, and one which I shall steal.

    Do you know any other kind of staff room?

    Cap'n: Peter G gave me the big break in life: from an all-too-comfortable public school in 'Inglaterra profunda' to a fanatically British institution run by pirates in the best city in the world. Massive salary cut, 17-hour flight time to Nempnett Thrubwell, total culture shock, and many other benefits were built in to the deal. Sorry, the packidge.

    It's been downhill, and very, very British, all the way from there, thank goodness.

    selfpity: anything you liked about the Anglo-Latino experience?
     
  17. Mainwaring

    Mainwaring Established commenter

    I always found Peter a useful resource (my breach with Grabbers came much after his time) as in:
    M: Can I bounce a name off you?
    P: Bounce away dear boy.
    M. Mr Green of BDS.
    P: Devious smooth-talking *******.
     
  18. SMT dude

    SMT dude New commenter

    Brilliant.

    If there is a truth universally acknowledged about the British, it is our talent, at our best, for ironic understatement.

    It lets villains off lightly.

    With 'devious smooth talking *******', applied to that family (there were three Mr Greens of BDS, padre, tio y hijo), PG truly flew the flag.

    He would have said that Stalin's behaviour 'bordered on the obsessive' or that Julius Caesar 'was not without a streak of ambition.'

    This kind of attitude is what we must inculcate at our post-colonial British academies.

    It could yet guarantee peace in our time.



     
  19. At the risk of over-playing my hand, but having shared the Middle East experience, I would like to suggest some or all of the following as characteristics of a 'British' school:

    - an air of torpor

    - the whiff of financial irregularity

    - a uniform based on the bizarre assumption that anyone wants to see hefty local boys, who appear to have been shaving since birth, in tight clothing

    - a staffroom characterised by conspicuous consumption and in-house infedelity

    - a staff recruited from quick interviews in middle-ranking hotels.
     
  20. SMT dude

    SMT dude New commenter

    Not overplaying your hand at all, pity. Keep it going.

    I very much hope you have worked in Europe, Africa and Asia as well, for you are beginning to assemble an interesting compendium of 'British School' qualities, answering the thread's original question like a punctilious examinee.

    Why has Peñarol not joined this one? Not lying on the beach at Punta del Este, not at this time of year, surely?
     

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