I want to clarify one thing first, I love my job. And neither is my move linked to where I am currently working. Let me explain...
Last summer my wife and I sat on a ferry talking to another British couple who had slightly rained on our parade. We'd proudly just returned to Calais after 4 weeks in the South of France to find that they'd spent 3 and a half months travelling around the whole of France. He was a retired member of the British Army and his wife a retired teacher. They were both 55. 55 and retired? They'd clearly got out before Gove and pals got hold of our profession. We spent the journey discussing education and one thing they said lodged in the minds of both my wife and I, "have a look at teaching in the Middle East, earn some money, have a better lifestyle and retire earlier."
We left the ferry and went our separate ways and, apart from the traffic issues and the rain, the conversation in the front of our car didn't cover much else other than the possibility of leaving the UK. In fact the traffic and rain helped fuel the discussion!
In the coming weeks we kept an eye on the International jobs section of the TES and looked into one or two in the UAE area. Web research showed some concerns about this area including the rights of women, high staff turnover and some schools with dodgy reputations so we didn't rush in. Then the job at JIS in Brunei came up. I was immediately drawn to the advert as the ethos was one of developing the whole child, as well as academic excellence, with a strong focus on the arts and sport. The facilities looked amazing as well as the curriculum opportunities for our own children. To be honest, like lots of people we've discussed it with since, we had no idea where Brunei was. It turns out it's not another country around the Dubai area but another 8 hours further east.
Long story short, a number of interviews later, including the final one at the school in October half term and I was successful. This was my first and only international and private sector application and I was amazed I got it. Little old me with a Nottingham Poly degree (although it did become a university whilst I was there) working in a highly challenging school on a large council estate in Nottingham City was selected from a world wide bunch! I couldn't be further from their reality.
So why move? Why uproot my wife and two children? Why leave the children's grandparents, friends and other family?
I'll try and give you a small glimpse into some of the thinking behind this decision:
- I don't want to leave my current school. I know, This sounds like a massive contradiction but it's true. Actually I owe a lot to my school in getting me this new job. My school has issues and had many more when I joined it only 18 months ago but it has been the intense effort to resolve as many as possible that has made me a better head than I was in my previous 5 years. Being able to sit in an interview situation and not be desperate to get it because I have to get out, whilst being able to just talk from the heart and from extensive experience, can't have failed to help me be successful.
- Meddling outside forces in our education system. I promise not to rant. Or at least I promise to try. As a head I've never been interested in ticking boxes and keeping outsiders happy; my passion is for the children we have in our school and their individual contexts, talents and needs. I firmly believe that if provision is right for each individual child then everything that is valued by those from the outside looks after itself. Sadly, this relatively simplistic view has become increasingly more difficult to sustain with the increasing hoop jumping that is demanded by the egotistical loose canons that believe themselves to be in charge. Gove is Gove and I won't get into my feelings about him now but then Sir M Wilshaw seems to be battling for the higher ego ground and introducing policies through the backdoor of ever changing inspection frameworks. The injustice of the frameworks for those of us in the 'challenging' schools...Then there's the lack of opposition policy, the constant manipulation of a flawed assessment system... I'll stop now as I'm sure you get the picture.
- Opportunities. Now that I know where Brunei is, the travel, cultural and lifestyle opportunities for my own family are significantly greater than I could provide here in the UK. For example, my son's year 6 residential trip will be to Australia rather than Grantham; I'm sure Grantham is great but... Also, the year-round warmth (apparently it rains. A lot. All at once.) means we can do more outdoors including jungle trips, kayaking and sailing in the sea. The location of Brunei itself makes travelling to exotic and interesting places much easier (and cheaper) than from the UK. I'm going to cheat here and refer you to Ian Gilbert's latest book 'Independent Thinking' where there is a list of benefits beginning on page 83. On a more serious note, the chance to take my children to a society where youngsters don't hang around in gangs carrying knives and drugs is clearly a positive. Levels of crime in Brunei are relatively low; the school's principle took me out for a pizza on the first night and didn't lock his car as there isn't a need to.
- Avoiding stress induced death. Alright, this sounds a bit dramatic, but it has a place in my thinking. There are many anecdotes of teachers, particularly headteachers, who struggle to reach retirement age then collapse and die or, if they survive, have life changing issues. I can well believe this, as the stress I experienced last year definitely impacted on my health, so this new job is a chance to earn a bit more money and possibly retire earlier, rather than work to 70 for a pension that is worth less (how does a 70 year old teacher relate to 11 year council estate boys?!). Hopefully the stress will be less with no OfSTED or SATs, although I still expect, and want to be, busy and working hard.
- Society. Just a short word on this. Until something is done about arresting the spiralling decline on estates like the one on which I work (and the widening gap between rich and poor), schools like mine will find themselves with ever-increasing difficulty in getting these children to 'national' averages. This brings a whole host of other multiplying difficulties such as recruitment, staff health, morale. Don't get me wrong, the kids are great but they are increasingly starting from lower and lower points through no fault of their own and the gaps are widening with their more affluent peers.
- Why not? I've learnt from personal experience that life is too short. Oddly, we don't smoke or drink particularly or even do the lottery and yet we're gambling on moving to the other side of the world but sometimes these opportunities just come along at the right time and you have to take them. What's the worse that can happen? Well, apart from being eaten by a salt water crocodile or bitten by a cobra or attacked by a sun bear...
So there's just a short summary of some of the thinking. This is my own opinion and I hope it doesn't depress anyone too much. I guess I will be one of the statistics of teachers leaving the profession which seems to be rapidly increasing. I can't blame them despite it being the best job.
At the time of writing there are 106 days before we leave. We're busy throwing out, selling off and boxing up our stuff (it's frightening how much is accumulated - anybody need a cross trainer and an oil filled radiator?) and painting all the rooms in the house. We intend to rent the house out and knowing there is an option to return helps the transition. Being honest, I hope we settle and do a decent number of years but we'll see how it goes.
It's natural to miss friends and family and I intend to keep in regular contact with my Twitter friends and hopefully some people I know from the UK will want to keep in touch with me! I've met some brilliant and inspiring people working in and with schools in the UK so maybe, come the revolution, when your day comes, I'll return with enthusiasm to work in an education system that values it's pupils for the individuals they are, where they've come from and the teachers going above and beyond for them. Until then I'll be playing in the back garden with the monkeys. And my children.