Chris Seal Principal Shrewsbury International School Bangkok

by Expat Life

Where are you from? What is your educational background?

My family are from London and although we moved around a little, I was fortunate enough to attend a state grammar school in Kent for most of my secondary education. I graduated from Loughborough University in 1994 with Joint Honours in English and Physical Education and Sports Science. I then returned the following year to complete a PGCE in Physical Education and History.

How has your background influenced you as an educator?

I think back to being at school in the 1980s, and remember the teacher strikes, the advent of the National Curriculum and progressive developments in removing corporal punishment as well as beginning to tackle racism and other inequalities. It was an interesting time, but more than anything what stood out for me were the staff who were prepared to go the extra mile for us. The Physical Education department always tried to give us as many opportunities as possible, and some of the teaching in History, Languages and other departments was superb. In the context of the time, and knowing what I know now, I understand how special these people were. Eddie Lane for example genuinely inspired me with a love of all things related to History. His wide eyed enthusiasm allied with a firm sense of high standards stayed with me.

What attracted you to teaching?

One of my best friends at Loughborough was a few years ahead of me and he was doing his PGCE while I was an undergraduate. The tales he told on his return from a day at school were mesmerising. His face lit up whenever he spoke of his successes and I suppose I felt then that this would be a job with huge  personal satisfaction. This is exactly how things have turned out, I have loved being part of shaping lives over the past twenty years or more.

When did you become a headmaster, how long have you been there, why did you join and where were you before?

I came to Shrewsbury International School Bangkok, Riverside in August 2017 as Principal, after nine years in Deputy Headmaster positions; three years at LVS Ascot, and then latterly at Millfield, a large boarding school in the South West of England. My involvement in boarding education began even earlier in 2004, when I successfully revitalised a failing boarding house at Trent College in Nottinghamshire. This led me into further leadership roles which allowed me to take on some particularly rewarding challenges.


I enjoyed changing the shape of the school day at Ascot to benefit the students, delivering a ‘1 to 1’ iPad programme at Millfield, and helping to introduce ‘[email protected]’; an innovative way of managing the transition from prep schools to senior schools in a boarding context. None of this was possible without the support and love of my wife Sam (now a teacher) and our girls (now with us at Shrewsbury). My work in boarding led me to be offered consultancies in China, Malaysia and South Korea and these opened my eyes to the possibilities to working internationally.

Once I met my predecessor (Stephen Holroyd – Principal 2005-2017) and the Governors and seen the Riverside campus there was no turning back.  What a school! More generally, I have also been lucky enough to follow some great leaders in education. Stephen Cole (Woodbridge) taught me the importance of people and how to connect with them. Tony Rolt and Jonathan Lee at Trent College taught me the true meaning of excellence and how to attain it – it was the only thing they agreed on! Thirdly, Graeme Best at LVS Ascot and Craig Considine (Millfield) showed me that quiet courage and persistence really do work. 

What are the benefits of an International school education?

What struck me when I became involved in Shrewsbury was the sheer quality of all that is happening.  Excellence is something I have aspired to, and looked to inspire in others for all of my career. Initially this was on the sports field and in the classroom, but I genuinely believe that excellence is achievable in all domains if well planned for. Currently we are engaged in our Strategic Plan – Towards 2021 in which we are focussing on attracting and developing ‘exceptional people’. A key strand of this is provide outstanding care of teaching staff and ensure that the quality of their work is exceptional. This takes time, planning and commitment, but we have these things at Shrewsbury.  Secondly, the Shrewsbury motto of ‘if the heart is right, all will be well’ is so closely aligned to my own philosophy that I felt compelled to explore this further.

The safety and happiness of each child makes a huge difference to learning, and creating the right environment for this is now my role as Principal. I have said on numerous occasions that the strength of the community at Shrewsbury is one of the reasons why we experience so much success. Students draw on the support of each other, their parents and staff.  Students and staff enjoy each other’s successes, and celebrate together. Students and staff also do an amazing job of supporting each other through tougher times.  Thirdly, I am even more convinced now than ever before, of the need for breadth. More and more employers and universities speak of what is learned outside the classroom making a significant impact on recruitment – it is the distinguishing factor. At Shrewsbury we seek to offer opportunity across a broad range of subjects and activities that offer students the chance to find and fulfil their potential with the guiding hand of superb professionals.  

What have been your biggest challenges/ success as a headmaster?

I’ve spent much of my career in leadership positions, but as someone relatively new to experiencing the demands of Headship firsthand, one of my early reflections is that an extraordinary range of issues that require your attention over relatively brief periods. This of course is what makes the job so exciting and rewarding, and perhaps my time as a Deputy Head in a large boarding school showed me the importance of being able to deal with surprises?  Delivering on our current Strategic Plan – Towards 2021 will keep us all engaged for some time yet. In order to do this we’ll be spending nearly 18 million (Pounds Sterling) and rebuilding a good section of our school. In this I’m sure there will be some complex challenges and surprises. The backing of our owner and Governors has been a real highlight in the role so far, and the project we are immersed in is a real thrill.

The successful build of a three storey underground school carpark is something I couldn’t have predicted a while ago, and over the course of the last two years we have also achieved re-accreditation with the Council of International Schools.  I’m also delighted to have received the support of our Governors to add two new posts to the Senior management Team in 2019. Vicki Rotheram our former Head of English becomes Assistant Principal (Staff) and will lead the Shrewsbury Institute of Teaching, Learning and Leadership. This institute will work with all colleagues in developing their skills to further benefit the students. She is joined by Nick Loudon, our Director of Safeguarding and Wellbeing. He becomes Assistant Principal (Students) and will advocate for our students at every level in our school.  This appointment further evidence that you should never lose sight of what education is all about – the students.

Tell us more about Shrewsbury.

Shrewsbury Riverside is one of the most successful schools in Bangkok. Now with over 1,700 students, we have grown swiftly over the past fifteen years. The academic achievements of the students have been quite remarkable and last year our A Level grades were extraordinary with 44% of all grades being A*.  Interestingly those students who started with us at the founding of the school achieved an average of 50% A*. The stability of the school over this period has made a huge difference, staff retention is excellent in comparison with the sector as a whole and Stephen’s Holroyd’s legacy is one of sustained growth going hand in hand with sustained success.

The parents have been a key part of this journey and their aspiration and high standards have helped to drive the school forward. The Shrewsbury Parents Group provide me with excellent, well intentioned and well directed feedback. Their passion for the school is huge and the events they run are awesome.

This sustained success has allowed students to access the very best universities in the world, but this doesn’t happen by accident. Our award winning Higher Education Department provides sage and bespoke advice away from the encumbrance of a teaching timetable. We are currently refurbishing our library to meet the needs of more modern working methods supporting collaboration and research, as well as continuing to provide the opportunity to access inspirational reading. Alumni also had an impact on our new ‘Computing in Action’ curriculum at Year 7 and 8 where students will apply computing skills to physical challenges – exactly what alumni are now doing in Silicon Valley.

Shrewsbury is also providing breadth. Huge numbers of our students play music to a high level, ever growing numbers are playing sport, exercising regularly, painting, acting, exploring, leading, and learning in new environments. Our “You-time!” after school activities programme offers unparalleled opportunities to explore passions, try new things, to fail and succeed.Shrewsbury is also providing breadth. Huge numbers of our students play music to a high level, ever growing numbers are playing sport, exercising regularly, painting, acting, exploring, leading, and learning in new environments. Our “You-time!” after school activities programme offers unparalleled opportunities to explore passions, try new things, to fail and succeed. Further reasons for thoroughly enjoying being Principal at a school like Shrewsbury in a thriving city.     

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