Nine days to save the SEEH!

Who would have thought that during the Greek presidency of the Council of Europe, the Greek government would allow the only European School in the whole of Greece to face closure? It’s scarcely believable, yet it’s happening.

We are petitioning the government to see sense and act to save the school. Please sign our petition and ask your friends and colleagues to do so too. (There are buttons at the bottom of the petition page to share it on social media.)

Please act: There are only nine more days until 8 April, when the school’s fate will be decided. Let us help the Minister see that he should make the legal changes needed to keep the school open. He promised to do it, and it is the right thing to do – right for the children, parents, and teachers of the school, right for ENISA, right for Heraklion, right for Crete, right for Greece, and right for him, as a member of a government that believes that Greece’s future lies at the heart of Europe.

We can all help him do it. Our last meeting at the school was a wonderfully warm and supportive one. All of us — parents, teachers, and ENISA – were united and spoke with one voice to support the future of our school, the future of our kids, the future of Greece in Europe.

Once again, please help. Here are some ways you can show your support:

Sign and share the petition.

Leave a message of support. (Please spare a moment to write a few words. We will show the comments to the Minister.)

Follow campaign updates on our blog.

Read more about the school.

There are more relevant links at the bottom of the petition.

Even though I and the other parents and teachers have a personal interest in keeping the school going, we do genuinely believe that its survival is important for the future of Crete, Greece, and Europe.

Thank you!

Photo of classroom door with poem

News on the School of European Education Heraklion

Disclaimer: I am writing here as a parent of three students at the School of European Education Heraklion. The views expressed are mine and are not intended to represent those of the school’s teachers, management, or PGA.

Since my blog post on Philhellenes about the School of European Education in Heraklion I have received many messages from parents who are thinking of sending their children to the school and who want to know my views about its future. Naturally, they want reassurance that its future is secure before they make a commitment. I have replied to most of these privately, but I thought it might be helpful to make a general statement here.

The first thing to say is that I am delighted to have received so many messages. This in itself confirms what all the school’s parents and teachers already know – namely, that there is wide interest in the school and strong support for it.

As to the future of the school, I’m simply not sure. The school has a lot of potential, but there is uncertainty at the moment. To some extent this is a sign of the times in Greece. Currently, almost everything here is uncertain. But it is not only that. Despite the positive attitude from students, teachers, parents, school management, and European inspectors, there is a sense that the school is not sufficiently supported by the regional and national authorities.

Whether or not this is the case, it makes sense to think that the school will be kept open if it is seen to fulfil a need. I don’t just mean the needs of ENISA (the European Network and Information Security Agency, which is based in Heraklion and with which the school is associated). Heraklion is a large and cosmopolitan city, and there are many families here who, for one reason or another, would like to send their children to an international school.

However, there is a vicious circle here. We need more students to register in order to secure the school’s future, but parents are reluctant to register their children while the school’s future is uncertain. Insecurity lowers registrations, and lower registrations increase insecurity. So I would ask you to keep registering your children. The school has vacancies and would love to welcome new students. I can’t promise you that the school’s future is secure, but you can help its prospects by making a commitment to it. Certainty will come from within!

Now for some news. Last term the school underwent inspection by the European Schools inspectorate, and their draft report was supplied to parents this week. It contains good news and bad news.

The inspectors praised the dedication of the school management and teachers and remarked on the school’s warm pedagogical atmosphere and stimulating learning environment. They commended the structure of lessons, the use of ICT, and the range of extra-curricular activities provided. They noted that students are very positive about the school, feel privileged to be part of it, and believe it will give them a good start at university. They praised the school for its openness and for taking the lead in local cultural and regional projects and for building contacts with other schools across Europe. This part of the report makes very encouraging reading indeed.

However, the inspectors also highlight some serious problems which they want to see resolved as a matter of urgency. They highlight three issues: (1) Lack of continuity for teachers, who are on yearly contracts only, (2) Low pupil numbers, especially in the English section, and (3) The school building, which is not large or well-equipped enough for a school of this type.

The inspectors note that these problems seriously threaten the existence of the school.

Clearly, these are not issues the school management and teachers can resolve; they are matters for the regional and national authorities. The inspectors urge the Greek authorities to find solutions and save the school.

The inspectors go on to make six specific recommendations, concerning teacher recruitment and contracts, student enrolment, the relationship with ENISA, and other matters — all with the aim of addressing the problems identified. They indicate that the future of the school depends on these recommendations being accepted and implemented by the Greek authorities.

Where does this leave us? Well, it leaves us with an excellent school which desperately needs support: support from politicians, from parents, from the community. The SEE is a precious resource for Heraklion and Greece, and we must all act now if we are to save it and safeguard its future. If you support the school, please join with the parents and teachers in lobbying the government to implement the inspectors’ recommendations.

And if are you thinking of registering your children with the school, please do it. Perhaps the biggest factor in all this is student numbers, and increasing registrations at the school is the best way to help it. Yes, there is some uncertainty, but if you wait for the uncertainty to end then you may lose the chance altogether. (And you can always change your mind later, if things don’t work out.) So please, act now!

Thanks again to all those who have written to me, and apologies to anyone to whom I haven’t replied (life has been hectic recently). I hope to see you in school either as a fellow parent or as a teacher of your children.

Update: My partner has created a petition calling on the authorities to save the SEEH. If you support the school, please sign the petition and share it.

PS. A note on the school building: There are already plans to construct a new school building on land supplied by the University of Crete, and in 2012 the School Buildings Organisation of Greece ran an architectural competition for the design of the building (here are details of the competition and prize winners). The winning design looks excellent. However, work on the project has still not begun. The decision to move forward lies with the authorities.

 

Photo of classroom door with poem

The School of European Education, Heraklion

Back in September I wrote a post for www.philhellenes.org, a website which celebrates Greece and Greek culture, and which is run by my partner Keith Frankish. The post is about the School of European Education, Heraklion, where I work and where my children study.

At the time I wrote the post, the school was going through a difficult phase, owing to administrative problems outside the control of the school’s management. I am happy to report that this difficult phase has now passed. The school is now functioning normally, and the students have largely made up for the time lost at the beginning of term.

However, I am linking to the post here, both because I stand by all the positive things I say in it about the school, and because I want to remind everyone how precious this institution is, and how important it is that it survives and flourishes.

Here is my post on the school.

The School of European Education, Heraklion: A plea

Disclaimer: I am writing this post as a private citizen and parent. The views expressed here are not intended to represent those of the management of the School of European Education, the school’s Parents and Guardians Association, or any other body connected with the school. –MK


Heraklion’s School of European Education (SEE) is located in the old town, a stone’s throw from the seafront and close by the Koule fortress. It is a Type II European School, which follows the educational curriculum of Schola Europaea but is funded by the Greek government.

The school was founded in 2005 to cater to the educational needs of the children of employees of ENISA (the EU agency for network and information security) and other international organizations and diplomatic services based in Heraklion. The school also provides English language education to children whose parents are nationals of other EU member states and Greek language education to Greek children. The school is non-denominational and has a full range of classes from nursery to high school. Students study a broad-based European curriculum which incorporates second-language learning from first grade and third language from High School. Students take the European Baccalaureate at age of 18. The school’s staff, who come from a wide variety of nationalities and backgrounds, are highly qualified, experienced, and dedicated. They are passionate about teaching and determined to promote the ideals of European education, especially in these difficult times.

The ethos of the school is expressed by the words of Jean Monnet in 1953:

Educated side by side, untroubled from infancy by divisive prejudices, acquainted with all that is great and good in the different cultures, it will be borne in upon them as they mature that they belong together. Without ceasing to look to their own lands with love and pride, they will become in mind Europeans, schooled and ready to complete and consolidate the work of their fathers before them, to bring into being a united and thriving Europe.

(Quoted from the Schola Europaea website)

For the last two years, I have had the honour to be a teacher in the school, teaching the fifth grade of the English primary school. It has been a wonderful experience. My students came from across Europe (from the UK, Finland, Italy, Cyprus, Moldavia, Greece…), but they had a shared love of learning and an openness to other cultures, and all saw Greece as a second home. Together, we talked about our different customs and cultures, studied the French Revolution and the British Empire, read English literature from Shakespeare to Harper Lee, discussed ethical issues, bred silkworms, kept pet guinea pigs and hamsters, dissected an animal eye, started a class blog, made theatrical masks and costumes, created charcoal artwork on the school walls, visited local museums, and acted out dramatic scenes from plays and novels — all the while following a rich and well-balanced curriculum and learning about the ideals that inspired the founding of the European Union. Some of my former pupils have stayed at the school, others have moved on to other countries, but all, I believe, have been enriched and inspired by their experience at the school and have formed a deep love of Crete and Greece.

I have not only been a teacher at the SEE, but a parent too. My elder son has attended the school for four years, my younger son has just completed nursery there, and my daughter is due to start pre-nursery there this autumn. The boys have flourished in the school and formed friendships that extend across the continent. I honestly can’t think of a better school for them.

But the SEE isn’t important just for me and its teachers, parents, and students. I believe it is important for Heraklion, for Crete, for Greece — even for Europe. Its ideals represent the best of the European spirit – the spirit of a mutually supporting community, which respects the differences between nations but shares a common commitment to democracy, equality, and respect for human rights. It is a school where Scandanavian children sing Theodorakis, Greek children act Danish stories and learn French folk songs, and where all learn to respect each other and value the differences between them. The SEE cultivates precisely the outward-looking, optimistic, democratic outlook that Greece must adopt if it is to flourish within the EU and the wider world.

Economically, too, the school is important. Heraklion is home to many research institutions, including the University of Crete, FORTH, and HCMR, which attract visiting researchers from around the world, and the city has vibrant and outward-looking business and artistic communities, with worldwide connections. By providing high-quality English-language education at primary and secondary levels, the SEE helps to attract academics and other professionals to take up posts in Crete, strengthening and enriching the academic and cultural life of the island and of Greece as a whole. Without the school, it would be much harder to get leading professionals from outside Greece to move here with their families.

Yet as I write (27 September 2013) the school is not functioning. Two weeks after the official start of term, the PGA reports that only one teacher has been appointed for the Greek-language primary school, none for English-language primary school, and six for the whole of the secondary school. A remaining twenty-five teaching appointments have not been made, even though the positions were advertised and application procedures completed weeks ago. Hardly any classes are running, my teaching colleagues and I are in limbo, uncertain whether we will be employed, and I and the other parents are deeply concerned for my children’s education. Protests have been made to the Ministry by ENISA and others, but so far without effect. Some parents have withdrawn their children from the school and everyone is worried and uncertain.

Of course, these are difficult times for everyone in Greece, and we are not the only ones who are suffering. And of course I have a strong personal interest in the school. But the SEE is something special, something that should be celebrated, cherished, and supported — for everyone’s sake. If Greece is to be an outward-looking country, which attracts and welcomes people from around the world and celebrates its own history and culture without ignoring or diminishing those of other peoples, if it is to be a strong and vigorous part of Europe, if it is to produce a new generation of citizens with open minds and broad education, then it needs this school — and more like it. If the SEE closes, we won’t get it back, and we’ll all be much the poorer.

To give you a flavour of what is so special about the SEE, I have included below a video I made for Europe Day earlier this year, in which teachers, parents, and students talk (in Greek, English, French, and Italian) about what the school means to them.

If, like me, you believe the SEE is a precious asset, please do whatever you can to support it — for example, by spreading the word on social networks, contacting local or national politicians, or leaving a message of support in the comments below.

Thank you.

Update 28/09/13

The SEE Parents and Guardians Association has today circulated a message saying that the Minister has just signed off most of the teaching appointments, and that classes should start early next week. This is, of course, excellent news, and gives me me hope that the school will function normally this year. But I remain anxious about its long-term future, especially as many ENISA personnel have now moved to Athens. I myself remain fully committed to the school, and I renew my plea for those who believe in the school and its values to spread the word about this precious part of the Greek and European educational system.

Update 4/10/13

It is a week since I wrote my original post, and I am pleased to say that progress has been made. All SEE pupils are now able to attend school, in both English and Greek sections, though some teaching appointments are still pending and many classes are merged. However, we hope that the school will soon be functioning more or less normally. (I myself am teaching the English 3rd grade.)

I was also very pleased to read the following comment by Regional Education Director Apostolos Klinakis, which he made to the newspaper Nea Kriti:

I acknowledge and empathize with the parents’ anguish and truly find it unthinkable and shameful for Heraklion that a school of such calibre as the European School is not functioning in our city. (Source. Original in Greek; my translation)

I think this is something we can all agree on!

We shouldn’t be complacent, however. As Alison notes in her comment below, there was a feeling of euphoria when the English section opened on Wednesday, and we must build on this strength of feeling to help secure the long-term future of the school.

I will not add any more updates on this post, but I plan to make further posts about the SEE in the future. (Please see my request for contributions in the comments below.)

Some links