Select Committee on Defence Eleventh Report

3  Service Children's Education

The role of SCE

51. SCE was formed in 1996, following the merger of Service Children's Schools (North West Europe) Defence Agency and the Service Children's Education Authority. SCE is an MoD agency responsible for educating Service children, and children of MoD officials, based overseas.[44]

52. The Adjutant General, on behalf of the Secretary of State for Defence, is responsible for the performance of SCE.[45] The Adjutant General chairs the SCE Owners Board which includes officials from the MoD, DfES and Ofsted.[46] The SCE Owners Board advises the Adjutant General on education best practice and the setting of key targets. The day-to-day management of SCE is the responsibility of the Chief Executive. According to the MoD submission, SCE is "subject to the main requirements of other agencies, e.g. submitting annual reports to Parliament, target setting, and working closely with Ministers".[47]

53. The Chief Executive of SCE, David Wadsworth, is a former secondary school teacher and Chief Education Officer of Bedfordshire County Council. The SCE employs 2,200 people comprising 750 teachers, and Learning Support Assistants, Foundation Stage Key Workers and other schools support staff.[48]

SCE schools

54. In total, SCE educates approximately 13,000 children in 44 schools located in 10 countries around the world.[49] Of these 44 schools, 36 are primary schools, two are middle schools and six are secondary schools. All are run on comprehensive lines and follow the English National Curriculum.[50] There are 30 SCE schools in Germany: 4 secondary, 2 middle and 24 primary. These schools educate 8,643 children and young people.[51] Cyprus has 6 SCE schools: 2 secondary and 4 primary. There is a SCE primary school in Belgium, Belize, Brunei, Denmark, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Italy, and the Netherlands.[52] SCE provides 41 pre-schools, referred to as "Foundation Stage Settings", for three year olds, linked to first and junior schools.

55. SCE also provides help and advice to Service and MoD personnel's families, about to be posted overseas or returning to the UK, including advice regarding boarding provision within the UK.[53]

SCE relationship with the DfES

56. In 2002, a Quinquennial Review (QQR) was undertaken into the performance of the SCE headquarters. The QQR concluded that SCE should remain as a MoD agency and that it was providing a good service to the families of Service personnel and providing value for money.[54]

57. We questioned the Minister for Schools about the appropriateness of the MoD having responsibility for schools overseas. He told us that he saw no value in the DfES taking over responsibility for SCE schools overseas and that the MoD remained the favoured lead department because it ensured that the needs of Service children remained a priority.[55] The Minister did note, however, that the DfES could "join up" more with the MoD in relation to SCE schools and that there was potential scope for the DfES treating SCE "a little more like a local authority".[56]

58. The relationship between the DfES, which is responsible for education policy in England, and the SCE was described to us by the Minister for Schools as "hands-off".[57] While the Minister drew attention to Ofsted's role in inspecting SCE schools, and the inclusion of DfES officials on the SCE Owners Board, he made clear that SCE was very much the responsibility of the MoD.[58] The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Defence, told us that collaboration with the DfES was "very much on a case by case basis".[59]

59. While it may seem curious that the MoD should be responsible for providing schools, it is unquestionably the Department with the closest interest in the education of Service children and the issues facing them. We see no reason to call for any change in the status of SCE as an MoD agency.

60. Both the MoD and the DfES expressed satisfaction with their current working relationship with regard to SCE schools, but saw potential for closer collaboration. We are concerned by the Minister for School's description of the DfES relationship with the MoD as "hands-off". We believe closer collaboration and a greater interest in Service children by the DfES to be essential.

Performance of SCE schools

61. MoD's submission notes that the performance of SCE schools compares favourably with English schools and that they are in "the leading 25 (of 150) Local Education Authority league tables at each of the key stages 1, 2 and 3".[60] Ms Sue Garner, Head of School Admissions, DfES, told us:

The schools provided by SCE abroad provide a very good education. If one looks at them in comparison with many English local education authority schools they are above average; they are in the top 25 per cent.[61]

We have no information about the position in Scotland and Wales.

62. In 2004, HQ SCE was inspected by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). Ofsted identified a number of concerns about the quality of service provided by SCE schools particularly with regard for the provision of support to children with special educational needs, ethnic minority children and gifted children.[62] The MoD submission states that these areas of weaknesses, as identified by Ofsted, have since been addressed.[63]

63. Since 2005, Ofsted has been inspecting up to 14 schools per year on a rolling programme to be completed by December 2008.[64] Of the seven SCE schools inspected by Ofsted since 2005, two schools were judged outstanding, four good and one school was judged inadequate.[65]

Postings to our web forum: SCE schools
"in Germany, SCE schools are the backbone of our community" (retired Officer)

"I have nothing but praise for the outstanding [SCE] school." (Service parent, Germany)

"the relationship between parents, teachers and children is a partnership for the benefit of the child, in or outside of school"(Service parent, Germany)

"Having compared notes with UK colleagues and friends I am in no doubt that we are very well served both in the quality, standards and availability of our pre-school provision which I believe is well above the government target." (Service parent, Germany)

64. In general, the teachers and families we met during our visit to Bishopspark Primary School, Paderborn, and King's School, Gütersloh, shared the positive assessment of SCE schools reflected in the memoranda from the DfES and Ofsted. We received particularly positive feedback about life in SCE schools from the pupils of St Christopher's School, Gibraltar, who told us about the benefits of living in a different culture and of learning new languages in SCE schools overseas. At Paderborn we also heard good reports of the pre-school for 3 year olds. However, we heard that many Service personnel—particularly officers and Senior NCOs—chose to move their children to boarding schools in the UK at the secondary stage. The written evidence we have received, and the contributions posted to our web forum, were generally positive about the quality of schooling provided by SCE schools, particularly at primary level.

Governance arrangements

65. The 2004 Ofsted Inspection of SCE identified weaknesses in the external governance arrangements of SCE schools.[66] SCE schools are supported by "Schools Advisory Committees" comprising nine members chaired by a serving military officer.[67] Schools Advisory Committees have less power than governing bodies in maintained schools. In particular, School Advisory Committees have no executive power and no powers to dismiss teachers.[68] The MoD attributes the different status to "the inapplicability of English law to overseas locations (and with it the granting of certain executive powers to school governing bodies)".[69]

66. The Ofsted Inspection expressed concern that School Advisory Committees demonstrated a lack of familiarity with their terms of reference and little involvement in the teaching in the schools.[70] The lack of familiarity was compounded by the "rapid turnover in committee membership".[71]

67. The Ofsted Inspection also expressed concern that "Head Teachers do not receive the extra level of support and challenge on an everyday basis that is so often provided by governors in England".[72] During our visit to King's School, Gütersloh, some parents told us of their concerns of an absence of a transparent complaints procedure. Similar concerns were also raised in our web forum.

Postings to our web forum: Complaining about SCE schools (from Service parents)
"Parents are not made aware of the next step if they wish to take a complaint further"

"Parents believe they may compromise their career prospects in the military if they 'make a fuss'"

"I would like to see an independent body responsible for dealing with complaints about Service children's schools"

68. The MoD told us that in response to the Ofsted assessment it would strengthen the role and clarify the terms of reference of Schools Advisory Committees by September 2006.[73]

69. We are not convinced by the reasons given by the MoD for the governance arrangements for SCE schools and recommend that the MoD consider the feasibility of giving Schools Advisory Committees powers equivalent to those exercised by governing bodies in UK maintained schools. We believe that this would help to ensure that high standards of performance are achieved. In the short term, the MoD should take steps to ensure that members of Schools Advisory Committees assume a more active role in school life and that they receive appropriate training to do this effectively.


70. SCE schools are funded from the MoD's budget, as set by the Treasury.[74] In 2003-04, following concerns of the SCE Owners' Board that the SCE budget was not being increased in line with increases to the DfES budget, the Secretary of State for Defence agreed to match the levels of additional resources for UK schools.[75] The SCE 2004-09 Corporate Plan notes with satisfaction that parity funding with DfES had been reached "after two or three years of trying".[76]

71. In 2005-06 SCE's budget was over £70 million and is planned to rise to over £75 million in 2007-08. David Wadsworth, Chief Executive, SCE, told us that spending per pupil by SCE was comparable to the guidelines set by the DfES for schools in England—approximately £5,000 per pupil per annum.[77]

72. The implications for the defence budget of this commitment are considerable. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Defence told us:

over four years parity funding will cost an additional £46.5 million to be found by the MoD. The gap will be wider with any further educational grants that the Chancellor was to provide [to DfES].[78]

73. We received a submission from the Head Teacher of an SCE school which stated there was a time lag, sometimes for up to a year, between the announcement of Treasury spending announcements for the DfES and the equivalent funding reaching SCE schools.[79] The submission also stated that

We have received little of the extra-funding made available to secondary schools over the last five years in the UK. We are being told by HQ SCE that we have to wait for this extra funding.[80]

74. When we pressed the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence about his plans to ensure the continuation of parity funding, he told us, with disarming honesty, that he had not given it sufficient attention: "It had not clicked with me before that the extra monies that were announced do not flow through in the way that they do in England and the devolved administrations".[81]

75. We suggested to the Minister for Schools that any additional funding earmarked for the DfES budget should be matched by a comparable amount made available for SCE schools. The Minister agreed with our suggestion and undertook to write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to express this view.[82]

76. We welcome the MoD's commitment to give additional funding to SCE to match increases to the DfES budget, but we are concerned to ensure that this funding is provided by HM Treasury rather than from already allocated MoD resources. We expect the Treasury to make available proportional funding to the MoD whenever it increases the schools budget. We expect the MoD to ensure that parity funding for SCE schools continues.

Applying DfES initiatives to SCE schools

77. During our visit to SCE schools in Germany, we heard concerns from teachers and parents that some DfES policy initiatives introduced to English schools were not being implemented in SCE schools in Germany. There was particular concern that the DfES "Extended Schools Initiative" was not being implemented in SCE schools;[83] that the provision of careers advice to students planning to leave SCE schools was poor, and that opportunities for vocational training and work placements were limited.

78. We pressed David Wadsworth for assurance that young people in SCE schools receive effective advice and support when deciding on career options and when applying to University. He told us that the careers advice provided by SCE to young children was:

Probably better than you would find in most English LEAs. There is a careers adviser based in each SCE High School. Their remit also extends to those who have left school but remain overseas with their families.[84]

79. We asked the Minister about the implementation of the Extended Schools Initiative in SCE schools.[85] Following the evidence session, the MoD made a supplementary submission which stated:

The DfES concept of extended schools, and the provision of extended learning opportunities to pupils and families, is fully supported by SCE and the Agency already provides an extended schools service in a number of locations and is working towards extending that provision further.[86]

80. While we note SCE's commitment to implementing DfES initiatives such as the Extended Schools Initiative, we are concerned that there is a perceived time-lag before they are implemented in SCE schools. The proposals for more "personalised learning" contained in the DfES White Paper, "Higher Standards, Better Schools for All" have significant implications on the way children will be taught in UK schools as well as a significant implementation budget (£235 million in 2007-08).[87] It is unclear whether the proposals for personalised learning will be applied to SCE schools and what extra funds will be available to implement them. It is vital that the interests of SCE schools are taken into account when DfES initiatives are introduced, and that SCE is resourced adequately to implement them.

Children of MoD contractors

81. All children of Service personnel serving overseas, as well as the children of MoD civil Servants and organisations such as the Navy Army Air Force Institutes (NAAFI), are entitled to free education in SCE schools.[88] Many Service personnel, serving overseas, choose to have their families with them and the existence of SCE schools in Germany makes this possible.

82. During our inquiry we were told that the children of some contract workers, undertaking important work for the Services overseas, were not entitled to free SCE schooling.

Postings to our web forum: schooling for children of contractors
"there are contractors working for the MOD on high wages who could probably afford the cost of education for SCE or who have this included in their 'package', I feel that 'contractors' on low wages, working for non-profit making charities who are posted regularly and deployed with the Army are an exception to the rule and should have education included in their contract." (wife of a contractor)

"Why can I go to school in England for free and I'm not allowed to in Germany? My dad looks after all the soldiers and all the children and us at home but there is no one to pay for my English school." (child of a contractor)

83. We asked the Minister for Schools whether he considered contractors working for MoD should be eligible for free schooling in SCE schools. The Minister undertook to consider the situation they faced.[89]

84. We recommend that the MoD consider broadening its criteria for deciding which of its contract workers are eligible for free education in SCE schools. It appears unfair that some contracted staff, performing important responsibilities for the Services, are not entitled to free schooling in SCE schools.

44   Ev 59, para2 Back

45   Service Children's Education Agency, Corporate Plan, 2004-2009, page 5 Back

46   Ev 59, para 6 Back

47   Ev 59, para 1 Back

48   Service Children's Education Agency, Corporate Plan, 2004-2009, page 4  Back

49   Ibid. Back

50   Q 284, Ev 86 Back

51   Ofsted Inspection Report, Service Children's Education Headquarters , June 2004, page 4  Back

52   Service Children's Education Agency, Corporate Plan, 2004-2009, page 4  Back

53 Back

54   Ev 59, para 3 Back

55   Q 307 Back

56   Ibid. Back

57   Q 303 Back

58   Ibid. Back

59   Q 196 Back

60   Ev 59, para 9 Back

61   Q 315 Back

62   Ofsted Inspection Report, Service Children's Education Headquarters, June 2004 Back

63   Ev 60, para 14 Back

64   Ev 87, para 2.1 Back

65   Further details about Ofsted inspections can be found at Back

66   Ofsted Inspection Report, Service Children's Education Headquarters, June 2004  Back

67   Ibid., para 108 Back

68   Ibid. Back

69   Ev 61, para 30 Back

70   Ofsted Inspection Report, Service Children's Education Headquarters, June 2004, para 109 Back

71   Ibid. Back

72   Ofsted Inspection Report, Service Children's Education Headquarters, June 2004, June 2004, para 112 Back

73   Ev 62, para 32 Back

74   Service Children's Education Agency, Corporate Plan, 2004-2009, page 30 Back

75   Ibid. Back

76   Ibid. Back

77   Q 277 Back

78   Q 279 Back

79   Ev 112, para 4 Back

80   Ibid. Back

81   Q 279 Back

82   Q 352 Back

83   The intent of the DfES Extended Schools initiative is for schools to make their facilities available for use by the wider community for a range of activities outside the hours of the regular school day Back

84   Q 264 Back

85   Q 274 Back

86   Ev 76, para 1 Back

87   DfES, Higher Standards, Better Schools for All, Cm 6677, October 2005 Back

88   Q 291 Back

89   Q 319 Back

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