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The BFE/SCEA: A short illustrated history

By utnvwom, on 16 October 2018

The IOE holds the archive of the British Forces Education Service/Service Children’s Education Association. The BFES/SCE provided education for the children of British Forces personnel initially in Germany, but later worldwide. The Association was established to enable BFES/SCE teachers to keep in touch. The collection contains papers from countries all over the world including Germany, Belize and Hong Kong. With the withdrawal of British troops from Germany over the past few years we have received many new items for the archive. I recently created an exhibition on the history of the organisation for the Assocation’s reunion dinner and thought it would be good to share a short version of it here.

On 9 February 1946 a meeting was called at the War Office where a working party was established to investigate the how to create a Central Education Authority to work under the Control Commission for Germany and Austria. At this point, the question of whether the families of British Service personnel serving in Germany should join them, had not been decided upon. A survey was undertaken by the Chairman of the Working Party, Lieutenant Colonel F J Downs and Mr W A B Hamilton, Assistant Secretary at the Ministry of Education.

The results showed that the total number of children aged between 0 and 15 in these families would be about 6000. The greatest requirement would be for primary education. In June 1946 the Cabinet agreed that families should join serving personnel as long as the education the children received was ‘at least equal to’ that they would have received in the UK. At this point the British Families Education Service was established by the Foreign Office.

Local Education Authorities were asked to co-operate to help recruit teachers to work in the schools in the British Zone of Germany. It was estimated that the number needed would be 200. Two thousand applied and the first teachers arrived in Germany in November 1946. British families started arriving from August 1946 onwards and small informal schools were set up in some areas before official BFES schools opened. The first official BFES schools opened in early 1947.

From issue number one of the BFES Gazette, 6th August 1947. BFE/C/3/1

Although the BFES originally provided education for the children of British Forces families in Germany, in the following years BFES/SCE schools were opened in countries across the world including Hong Kong, Cyprus, Malaysia and Mauritius.

The staff of Minden Road School Hong Kong, 1957. BFE/B/5/7

School magazine, and school theatre production programme for Bourne School, Malaysia [then Malaya], c1960. Donated by Janet Methley. BFE/B/6/8

A change of hands
In the winter of 1951-1952 the Service was taken over by the Army and became Service Childrens’ Education Authority (SCEA). In around 1989 a new administration was introduced and in the short-term the organisation was named Service Children’s Schools (SCS) before adopting its current name Service Children Education (SCE).

SCEA Bulletin Number 2, BFE/A/3/1/2

The Association
The BFES Association was founded in 1967 to enable BFES teachers to keep in touch. In the 1980s it merged with the Service Childrens’ Education Association (SCEA), which had changed its name to SCE, to become the BFES/SCE Association.

Map of locations of British Forces Schools in 2007. BFE/A/2/5


The Archive at the UCL Institute of Education
While the collection documents the history of the organisation very effectively, its richness comes from it being mostly collected by teachers who worked for the BFES/SCE. This aspect of the archive gives researchers an insight into the lives of those who were part of an incredible organisation.

The collection comprises:

  • Administrative papers of the BFES/SCE Association including minutes of meetings, papers regarding events and publications;
  • Recollections, diaries, photographs and school publications of former BFES/SCE teachers working in Belgium, Cyprus, Germany (West Berlin and West Germany), Egypt, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Yemen;
  • Records of the BFES/SCE itself including teaching resources, information for staff and families living abroad, and publications. Most of these papers have been donated by members of the BFES/SCE Association but relate more generally to the work of the BFES/SCE rather than the work of individual schools.
  • A small number of publications issued by the British Forces and community

Researchers can arrange to access the collection at our reading room at the UCL IOE.

12 Responses to “The BFE/SCEA: A short illustrated history”

  • 1
    Ilona Patricia Wewiorski wrote on 27 July 2020:

    Could you please tell me what British Army secondary school soldiers’ children living in Osnabruck would have attended? I am writing a play based on my experience as a young army wife in the mid ’80s and need this information as part of my research.
    Thank you inadvance.

  • 2
    utnvwom wrote on 29 July 2020:

    Hi Ilona, this sounds very interesting. I got the following information from the Honorary Archivist of the BFES, and the good news is you might have some choice! Let me know if you’re looking for any more information on these schools in case we have anything digitised that we can send you while we’re working from home. The archive contains most about Marlborough.

    “Osnabruck was the largest British Garrison abroad, with regiments from most arms/corps of the British army. In the 1980s we had four schools in Osnabruck; three were first schools, ages 4 to 8 and a Middle School for pupils aged 9 to 13. At 13 (Year 9) the pupils transferred to Edinburgh Comprehensive School, Munster where they became weekly boarders. The three first schools were Clive, Marlborough and Wellington and the middle school was Derby. In around 1989 part of Clive First School burnt down during the summer holidays and the pupils had to be quickly reorganised with Derby Middle School becoming an 8 to 13 Middle School and Marlborough & Wellington First Schools catering for the 4 to 8 year olds. The transfer of 13 year olds to Muster continued as before.
    All our schools in Osnabruck closed in the early 2000s.”

  • 3
    Keith Pascoe wrote on 3 April 2021:

    Is it possible to have a list of teachers who taught at the BFES Charlemagne School from 1979-1882?

  • 4
    utnvwom wrote on 13 April 2021:

    Dear Keith, please email our enquiry address with regards to this enquiry ioe.arch-enquiries@ucl.ac.uk. We are required to apply the Data Protection 2018 Act to all enquiries.

  • 5
    Susan Spibey wrote on 21 September 2021:

    My sister Christine Ford (nee Spibey) was the Event Organiser for BFES/SCE reunions. She was in Malta at St Andrews until 1978 and then in Germany at Krefeld until 1985. She continued to organise the reunions until her death in 2017. As a professional event organiser I supported her in the organisation of these events which included a reunion of BFES/SCE Malta in 1991 when the British High Commissioner hosted a reception for all the people who came for the reunion and all the Maltese people who worked at the Schools across the Island. It made news on Malta TV. I am still in touch with a number of the Malta Teachers.

  • 6
    abroadeducation wrote on 5 February 2022:

    Thanks for sharing a wonderful blog. It would widely help to increase reader knowledge

  • 7
    Jackii Crockett wrote on 21 November 2022:

    Is it possible to inform me when Dhekelia School opened?

  • 8
    utnvkh2 wrote on 6 January 2023:

    Hello Jackii. Thank you for your question. I’m afraid I can’t find any information on our online archive catalogue, or in our BFES schools research, on when Dhekelia school opened. The earliest item we have from the school is a photo from 1964. If you would like to email your query to us at ioe.arch-enquiries@ucl.ac.uk we could do some further research on this and check with the BFES Honorary Archivist. With thanks, Kathryn Hannan

  • 9
    Cynthia Anderson (nee Hutt) wrote on 7 August 2023:

    Is it possible to get information about teaching staff at Cornwall School Dortmund in the 1960s and 1970s? I joined the school in 1963 as did my husband, Ian Anderson.
    Thank you.

  • 10
    utnvkh2 wrote on 7 September 2023:

    Hello Cynthia, Thank you for your enquiry. Unfortunately we don’t have much information about Cornwall School at all but what we do have can be accessed via our online catalogue https://archives.ucl.ac.uk/CalmView/ You would need to use the Advanced Search option (to the right above the search box) then type Cornwall or Dortmund in the AnyText box and BFE* in the Reference Number box. This would show you the records we have about that school and other schools in the Dortmund area. Alternatively you can email us at ioe.arch-enquiries@ucl.ac.uk and we can help you further.

  • 11
    Nancy (nee MacDonald) wrote on 26 November 2023:

    I arrived at BFES Marlborough School in September 1961. It was huge then, it had three departments , infant junior and secondary. It was the original school. There were six infant classes, four junior and three secondary but the garrison had grown and more schools were needed. I was there until 1964, when I left to get married, and by the time I moved on there were three schools.
    I really enjoyed my time there and did intend to stay on but married life happened and I moved to England after three great years.
    I also taught in Kowloon, HK in 1969 and Herford, West Germany.
    Yes, my husband was in the Army,

  • 12
    Michael J Grasby wrote on 16 February 2024:

    Hi Nance
    My Father John Grasby was Stationed in Austris in1952 and then ERE appointment in Germany in 1956 until the early to mid-1960’s after serving as RQMS with the 1st Bn Green Howards in Malaya (Now called Malasia) from 1948-1952 my Older Sister and I went to St Georges School in RHEINDIHLEN BFPO 40 my Sister also went to Queen School in RHEINDIHLEN before my father was Demobed and we all moved to the UK

    I joined the Army in January 1969 and was stationed in Herford Germany in that same year as yourself I was ACC attached to the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards at Harewood Barracks

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