Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Finding fans in Cyprus

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A single teaching union, little sign of child protection policies, ultra-fr iendly parents and a love affair with the motor car - Deborah Duncan reports on her new life as a head in Cyprus.

Welcome to Cyprus! That is what everyone wants to say to me...personally. I have been in my new role as headteacher of The English School in Nicosia now for two months and I have been overwhelmed by the hospitality and warmth of the people here. However, somehow I have to get across the message that I do not actually need to meet with every single parent of the 1,050 students in the school before Christmas.

One mother actually made an appointment, and when I asked her what the problem was with her daughter's education she replied, "Oh nothing, I just wanted to meet you and say welcome to Cyprus."

Indeed, the welcome is as warm as the weather. I have been amazed by the fact that students in the school can both learn and achieve excellent results, sitting in classrooms with no air conditioning where the temperature is in the 30s and ceiling fans were probably installed when Britain still had an Empire. If we were in the UK I am certain that the union rep would be banging on my door telling me that the members were refusing to teach in such conditions.

Nevertheless, the teachers' union is very much in evidence here and all personnel matters have to go through the rep. Terms and conditions for teachers in Cyprus would make their UK colleagues delirious with pleasure.

In their first year, colleagues teach a 70 per cent contact timetable and this is reduced to 43 per cent after they have been teaching for 15 years. So, the more experienced you are, the less you work.

Public institutions are only just beginning to wake up to the fact that they are now subject to EU legislation. Lip-service is paid to health and safety while safeguarding children, child protection and CRB checks are unheard of.

It is a great relief not to have the local authority breathing down your neck if all your policies are not in place but, on the other hand, it makes me slightly uneasy not to have everything watertight as I did in the UK.

Workforce remodelling is also an alien concept here and teachers happily do large amounts of bureaucracy, including most things on the UK's banned list. The support staff names are not even included on the staff list - they receive very little training and are very much treated as second-class citizens.

I caused quite a stir when I brought the premises team into my office and offered them drinks and snacks to discuss how they could work more efficiently as a team and clear up the school site. (Readers will no doubt have realised that the school improvement document is an increasingly long one.)

We have also caused a bit of a stir as a family as we have decided to manage with only one car and we often go out on our bicycles - my daughter goes to school on hers and we all go to church by two wheels. The Cypriots are very fond of their cars and would not be seen dead walking, let alone cycling anywhere.

I think they have generously decided that we are quaint and English to cycle in this heat - mad dogs and Englishmen etc. On days when I think I have returned to a school in the 1950s in terms of education and administration, I remind myself that this weekend I can go to the beach and swim in the sea or relax on the swing seat in the garden bathed in the late afternoon warmth as I plan the modernisation of an academically excellent but otherwise rather outdated institution.

Deborah Duncan was formerly a secondary head in the UK.

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