‘My aim is to make this the best school in Portugal’.jpg

‘My aim is to make this the best school in Portugal’

TERENCE (TERRY) Payne is the director of the Eastern Algarve International School in Tavira (EAST), which is due to open in September. The Resident’s Caroline Cunha recently met up with him to find out more about the project and the school’s long-term plans.

Terry Payne is from Devon in the UK and has enjoyed a long and successful career in the field of education. He has taught in Hong Kong, Mexico and China, as well as in the UK, and has recently worked as an OFSTED inspector, measuring standards in UK schools. He has managed his own education consultancy, written several books, and was responsible for setting up and heading the education department at leading technology company, TDK.

Terry has been a longstanding fan of Portugal and, after many visits to this country (on holidays and for work reasons), he came to teach at St. Julian’s School in Lisbon in 2003, where he was Director of Music until August 2005.

After hitting upon the idea of setting up an international school in Tavira, he had a meeting with Tavira Câmara President, Macário Correia, back in March 2004. The response from the council chief was enthusiastic and Terry then began putting the plans for EAST into place.

The Resident: I understand it has been quite a challenge trying to set up this school. How long has it taken you and what sort of obstacles have you faced?

Terence Payne: So far, I have attended close to 500 meetings as part of the process of setting up this school. The main obstacles have been coping with bureaucracy, which, at all stages, makes things more difficult and takes longer to happen. There are all kinds of requirements that have to be met, some of which have been quite frustrating. For example, each classroom at the temporary school site has a bathroom off the main room, due to the fact that this building was originally constructed as a hotel. However, these will need to be knocked down and a separate toilet block built. We were also being asked to build a separate library, although each room has ample book space. The project has been in the pipeline for over two years. We know that the regional education department and Tavira Câmara really want this school ‘to happen’ and now hope that the final licensing stage will go smoothly.

T.R: What about the building? Lessons are scheduled to begin in a small rural hotel. Have you had to adapt this to meet health and safety requirements? What facilities does it have? Is there a plan to build a new building for the school in the future?

T.P: The school is set in a beautiful part of the valley, with access to the rich local environment, birds and wildlife. It is just five minutes by car from the city of Tavira, in a tranquil spot surrounded by nature. It is a Quinta style, and the building is all on one level, which is a plus. We have an extensive five-hectare site, which boasts a swimming pool and playing field. We also intend to use local facilities such as the beach, community sports hall and local golf course. We have plans for our technology students to construct a crazy golf course. Not all the learning will take place on site, the students will also be taught in the town, on the beach and up the river!

At this point, we are at the licensing stage with the Câmara, and are awaiting instructions to carry out building at the temporary school site. The hotel is being adapted (a separate toilet block must be installed and some dividing walls must be knocked down to enlarge rooms) to provide classrooms and other facilities to meet other requirements of the curriculum, as well as to meet health and safety requirements.

With regard to the permanent school building, we have looked at 40 sites over the last two-and-a-half years and are still looking at three with a view to buying land and developing a new site for 2008/2009.  

T.R: What will be the age range of pupils accepted at the school?

T.P: From reception (four years) up to 18-years-old.

T.R: Where is the funding coming from for the school?

T.P: Currently, we are in negotiation with four banks to obtain a loan for the set up costs. We are also writing to 500 companies. We have already received some positive responses, one from a golf club and another from an Irish development company, which has offered to pay for desks and computers. Editor: Terence Payne has sent us a letter with details on how people can support the school. Read Dear Editor on p. 39.

T.R: Why are you so committed to this project?

T.P: I am passionate about good education. I came from a poor family, but because I had a good education, I was able to do what I wanted in life. I’ve always been a very enthusiastic teacher and have a vision of wanting to provide the best possible quality education for the 21st century.

T.R: Are you still on course to open in September and, if so, how many children do you expect will start? Is the school open to boarders?

T.P: Yes, providing the final stages of the application can be dealt with speedily by Tavira Câmara. The council does appear to be very enthusiastic about the project and the president, in particular, is very committed to it. We expect to open in the middle of September, around the 18th of the month, with 60 students. Half of these are Portuguese and the rest are a mixture of 13 different nationalities. Arrangements are being made with local families so that we can offer places for boarders.

T.R: What will happen if the opening of the school is delayed?

T.P: We will put our emergency plan into action. We would teach via an activity programme, which would include trips to Évora and Lisbon, and the pupils would be given extended projects. Our policy is experiential learning anyway. It must be clear that Maths and English would still be taught though. There is no reason why we shouldn’t open on time though.

T.R: What did you take from your years working at St Julian’s School in Lisbon, that may have helped you with launching this new project?

T.P: I am lucky in that I always taught in good schools, including St Julian’s, one of the best schools in Portugal, with which our school will have close links. I taught in Hong Kong for four years at a Ministry of Defence school for children of members of the Armed Forces, and also taught at schools in Mexico and China, as well as in the UK. This school will be based on the best of working practise, and all the ideas and experience I have taken from the schools I have taught at and inspected over the years.

T.R: Do you think the new school will cause property values to rise in the area?

T.P: The development of EAST will change migration patterns, as it will make the Eastern Algarve more accessible for families to live. This will inevitably raise property and land prices in the area in coming years. It is a fact that the setting up of this school is fuelling interest in the area. In addition to this, Tavira has been featured several times on British property and holiday TV programmes over the past year.

T.R: How many jobs will the school create? Do you still have vacancies to fill?

T.P: A dozen jobs initially and we are no longer advertising. This number will increase over the coming years. We are employing teachers, associate teachers, technical and administrative staff, as well as catering personnel.

T.R: You have said that your aim is to make it the best school in Portugal. What, in your opinion, makes a good school?

T.P: Three things make a good school: quality of leadership and management, quality of staff and support from parents and the community. EAST will be based on best working practise, and I believe we will be slightly ahead of our time in terms of the curriculum and comprehensive education we will offer.

T.R: What, in your opinion, are the advantages of sending children to an international school rather than enrolling them in a regular Portuguese state school? Obviously, there is a strong argument if a child has already begun school in the UK, for example, and does not speak any Portuguese, but what about a child of three, who may have been born in Portugal?

T.P: I believe an international school offers a broader curriculum than a national school and there are many advantages. Our outlook is to produce citizens of the world who will feel comfortable living in any country. The world is becoming a smaller place and all good schools around the globe are becoming more focussed on international education. We have a good opportunity here to take the best of educational practises from around the world. We endeavour to prepare our students for a future world we cannot foresee.

Portuguese schools are mainly purely academic in their approach, but here we offer experiential learning, where children learn by doing things not just studying books and being lectured. We offer a broader curriculum with lots of extra subjects, such as dance and drama, and instrumental tuition for all students.

T.R: Will the children be taught only in English? Will their Portuguese be good enough should they wish to go on to university in Portugal, or work in this country in the future?  

T.P: The official working language is English but some lessons will be taught in Portuguese. All our students will become bilingual and many will be multilingual. Our teachers will instantly translate anything which is not understood. The students will sit GCSEs at 16, which have an equivalent in Portugal. At 18, we offer the International Baccalaureate (IB), which is globally recognised and can allow entry to the Sorbonne, Harvard, Coimbra and Oxford universities, to name just a few. We are the only school in the Algarve to offer the IB qualification. GCSEs and IB will begin in 2007.

We accept that 90 per cent of our pupils may live in Portugal; some of them for the rest of their lives. The vast majority were born here and their home is here now, even if they go abroad for university. They regard themselves as Portuguese and this country is their home. Therefore, we must teach them to integrate themselves in the Portuguese community. This is not a school for an expat clique. We don’t want to create an island here. It will not be a school for English children, Portuguese children or for solely any other nationality, but a school for everyone. I have visited 62 countries and I believe travel broadens the mind. We want our students to be broadminded and tolerant of all cultures.

T.R: Many people say that they just don’t get to use a lot of what they learnt at school. I believe this is something you are fighting against through EAST’s curriculum and philosophy … .

T.P: We aim for the learning here to be practical, vocational and experiential. What is taught will be a mix of the academic, practical and technical. We will offer the opportunity for students to receive a broad education and gain particular skills to move into their particular career areas. We plan to offer robotics, engineering, life skills, law, health, social care, tourism and even car maintenance. We are considering many innovative subjects for the 2007 curriculum and will maybe offer law at GCSE, and we will be consulting parents. We are always looking ahead about what we want to do in terms of teaching. We are not constrained by tradition because we are a new school and are also not limited to offering the English curriculum.

T.R: I hear you are intending to offer many languages including Mandarin, Hindi and Arabic, as well as those more traditionally taught, such as French and German ….

T.P: Yes, that’s right, and we have already appointed Russian and Hindi teachers. Offering a more diverse range of languages is important in order to reflect the changing world.

T.R: What else will set EAST apart from other schools?

T.P: We will not be asking students under 14 to do homework, only when their exam courses start. We will be incorporating individual study into the timetable. Therefore, what would have traditionally been homework, will be set and done in school using the school’s resources, i.e IT equipment and books, and students can ask teachers for help if they get stuck. We believe it is important to have a work-life balance. This is important so that students have the required energy to perform well at school. It also helps ensure teachers remain enthusiastic and fresh. Time is created in the schedule for teachers to mark and prepare lessons, so that they also have a life-school balance, and are not forced to spend all their evenings marking and preparing lessons. We aim to be the best payer of staff in the Algarve and in Portugal within three years. We will pay high salaries to attract the best teachers. We will be offering adult education classes at evenings and weekends, including cookery, bridge, yoga, Portuguese and English lessons, among others.

T.R: What will be the size of the classes?

T.P: The nature of the building and room size restricts class sizes, giving much lower teacher/pupil ratios. There will be around 15 pupils per class and each class will have a teacher and teaching assistant, meaning that the pupil to staff ratio will be 8:1.

T.R: How do you select the teachers to work at EAST?

T.P: No one is appointed at EAST unless I have seen them teach! To teach at EAST, staff must have the EF factor; a list of qualities and skills I have defined together with the students. 1. Friendly; 2. Firm; 3. Fair; 4. Flexible; 5. Enthusiastic; 6. Expertise; 7. Energy; 8. Enjoyment.

Pupils that have already enrolled to begin in September were invited to come and take part in the teacher interview process. Each candidate had to teach a class and, afterwards, as well as making my own notes, I also consulted the students on their views. They really enjoyed taking part in the process and I felt it was extremely important and valuable to the future success of the school.

We are very confident about our teaching staff and, for that reason, we will always have an open door policy at EAST. We will not be hiding away behind closed doors here! Parents are welcome to come and sit in on a class, from time to time, if they telephone and let us know they are coming. We want to create a friendly relationship between teachers, parents and pupils.

T.R: Are background checks being carried out on staff? This is an issue which is very important to parents nowadays.

T.P: Yes, there is vigorous vetting. All EAST staff are police checked in Portugal and in the UK. We ask for three references from previous employers and we also follow up on all qualifications. Well qualified teachers welcome this policy.

T.R: Are you able to provide an indication as to the fees that will be charged at EAST?

T.P: The average fees will be 6,900 euros per year and start at 5,250 euros per year for pupils in the reception class. We are a non profit making institution and our fees are below average for international schools in Portugal. Also, our fees include many items which most schools charge extra for, such as meals and instrumental tuition, insurance and re-registration.

T.R: Will this be a school purely for the wealthy?

T.P: No. We are creating a scholarship programme and spaces will also be offered to children from poor families who prove they have the right attitude and are competitive. They will sit an exam and many spaces will be subsidised or free.

T.R: Is it too late to register students for September?

T.P: No, it is no too late; enrolments are still regularly coming in. However, it is important to make people aware that, by the second year, we expect to be oversubscribed and priority will be given to siblings of existing pupils. Entrance to EAST is gained via an application and interview. EAST is an inclusive school for all nationalities and abilities.

For further information about EAST, visit the website at www.east-pt.com or call 914 721 566.