Hannah Owen is a teacher at Carterton Community College in Oxfordshire. She chats to us about how her school supports service children and why she thinks it’s important for all schools to make military children feel settled and supported as soon as they arrive.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to be a teacher.
I live in a little village in Gloucestershire with my husband (who serves in the British Army) and my two children (aged 3 and 18months). My father was in the RAF and I moved from Germany to England lots as a child. After completing my degree in English Language, Literature and Drama I decided to do a PGCE. I’ve taught in schools in Warwickshire and Oxfordshire and have been at Carterton College for 10 years.
How many military children are there in your school?
We have 30% Service Students with a mix of RAF and Army.
How does your school support forces’ families?
We do so many things to support service children, I am bound to miss something!
- We have Service club for students run weekly by our Service Ambassadors.
- We recently downloaded the new Little Troopers resources for secondary schools and are hoping to start using those with our students.
- We have a transition system so that if anyone starts mid-term we have a buddying system to help them start here.
- We are part of Reading Force, which involves students reading the same book as a deployed parent and completing scrap books together.
- We have workshops run by an ex-RAF member working on team-work, well-being and we have a school counsellor.
- We are in the middle of refurbishing a room which will be called the ‘Military Hangar’ where maps, laptops and phones can be used by students to speak with deployed family members.
- Our system in school means that when a parent completes a deployment, form tutors are informed and then immediate communication is made with the service family to see what support is needed.
- We run roadshows in school for the community so service families can come and see what services are on offer for them.
- Through close career links – all SPP students also receive a careers meeting early on to map pathways.
Does your military connection help you when interacting with the service pupils?
I think it certainly does help for students to know ‘we’ get it. Two members of staff have served in the forces before becoming teachers and I was a military child and I am now married to someone serving. We also have a number of military spouses here too.
What initiatives or projects have worked particularly well?
Our teaching training and team building workshops are always really effective and for the students our Service Ambassadors and Service Club have been really popular.
Four of our students were also recently guests on the Little Troopers SQUAD podcast for military teenagers. They all really enjoyed being involved and getting the opportunity to share their experiences of growing-up as military children. The podcast will definitely be a resource that we will be using in school.
Why do you think it’s important to offer targeted support for service children in school?
Their situation is so unique, no one military family is the same, but the lifestyle, the constant unknown of whether a parent will be there, or moving away, is something that all service children can relate to and it can cause anxiety for students. We want to make sure that service students arrive here and know that they belong straight away; that we understand their unique circumstances and that support is available
In your experience, what are the biggest challenges faced by military children in school?
Making new friendships when arriving from another school and helping a parent at home when someone is away and the stress that this can bring are probably the two biggest challenges that service children face.
Have these challenges changed during your time as a teacher?
No, I do not think they have changed, but I think our staff have changed to really fully appreciate the importance of supporting this group of students.
What’s the one thing you think is most important for schools to do for forces children?
Understand what they are going through and be ready to offer support as and when needed.
What advice would you offer to other teachers and schools working with military children?
Acknowledge that they have a wealth of skills and resilience to celebrate – Service students are amazing, but it is worth noting that teenagers ‘cope’ and are often ‘used’ to what it means be a military child –but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need support. It is your job to acknowledge that you know it can be hard sometimes and to explain that it is okay to get help if you need it and take some time for themselves.