“Our motto is Leadership for a better world. Our students needed to be working both collaboratively and independently, developing effective communication skills – discussion, debate as well as engaging with media in a creative and purposeful way.”
Expat Life sat down with the Headmaster of Harrow International School Bangkok to talk about his time in Bangkok and his forthcoming move to Hong Kong next January, where he takes up the new role of Head of Strategic Development for Harrow International Group. Our discussion begins, striding purposefully towards the school gate, Mick explaining on the way that, as often as he can, he likes to greet the children when they arrive in the morning and bid them goodbye at the end of the school day. As we walk through the school, students we pass respectfully say “Good afternoon Headmaster.”
Once at the gate, in and amongst the smiling goodbyes, he reminds individual students of a couple of the school rules – mostly concerning the use of mobile telephones and untucked shirts. He believes that by being accessible to parents and students at these key moments of the day, the channels of communication are kept open and any small concerns can be addressed quickly, in a more informal manner, before they develop into something more serious.
I asked Mick to reflect on his career to date:
“My first teaching post (27 years ago) seems a million miles away from where I am standing today. I started out at Chickenley School, right in the heart of a deprived council estate in West Yorkshire. Many of the children there were dealing with daily challenges that went far beyond struggling with homework. I cut my teaching teeth there; and goodness knows it was a steep learning curve. At a school like ours here in Bangkok, if you get your teaching plan wrong you will see the children’s eyes glaze over. At Chickenley, teachers risked chairs flying through the air and the occasional one going through a window.
In my 21 years as a Headteacher, I have built and led schools in diverse locations – from the Qatari desert, to downtown Tokyo, Cyprus and now finally Bangkok. I came to interview here in December of 2011, just as the flood waters in the school and surrounding areas were receding. The school site was effectively closed with the Primary and Secondary departments having relocated to other premises down town. The team work and collaboration involved in making this happen, impressed upon me how dedicated the teaching staff were and the resilience of the children, some of whom were adapting happily to starting school at 3:30pm when they would usually have been going home!
However it is fair to say that this period took its toll on the school; we had also had three headteachers in as many years. When I started in 2012, there was a lot of work to be done. In six years we have come such a long way. Today we are in the top 2% of British schools globally. This year our Year 13 graduates are going on to Oxford, Cambridge, Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania; London universities are first choice for many of our students – Kings College, Imperial, LSE and UCL.
With our A level results now at 61% A* and As, our students are in a strong position to be making great choices.” The school is set on 35 acres overlooking the Harrow Lake – I am struck by how green and spacious it feels, benefitting from some great landscaping and the sports fields are immaculate. Early in 2014 the school launched its ambitious and far reaching HBuild Project and I can see its mark everywhere. “In 2014 we made a total commitment to radically improving the school’s facilities for our students and our staff. We decided that every corner of the campus would feel HBuild’s touch – and it’s a big campus.
I am pleased to say four years on, we have kept that promise. Our motto is Leadership for a better world. In order to develop those leadership attributes our students needed to be working both collaboratively and independently, developing effective communication skills – discussion, debate as well as engaging with media in a creative and purposeful way. Developing and creating these new facilities has allowed our teachers and students to work together in a host of ways that equip our young people for life.
Through our Service Learning Curriculum, we run programmes which have really changed people’s lives. For 12 years we have worked in the Mae Sot refugee camp on the Burmese border. Our students go up there to run workshops, to bring residents of the camp out of there for the day, for perhaps the first time in their lives. Supporting English language acquisition is a cornerstone of our work in the camp. Our Cambridge examiners travel to the camp to administer the CET certification, so young people in the camp can matriculate and get onto a teachers training course – life changing.
These are mature programmes and form a vital component of a Harrow education – we have a responsibility not simply to get students to the university interview table, but to give them the opportunities that enable them form and offer informed opinions based on their own direct experience. This is so valuable for them as people as well as providing them with an extra reservoir of understanding, beyond examination results, that top universities are looking for.”
As I tour the school with Mick we reflect on our own school experience, some 40ish years ago in England, bothamazed at the change, in terms of the range of possibilities, within the educational experience of today here at Harrow Bangkok. “The students get tired of hearing me say that I would have given my eye teeth to have had the opportunity of a similar education!” muses the Headmaster. “However, I am pleased to say that our students really are grabbing these opportunities and making the most of what they are offered; outcomes are incredible.”
In January Mick will hand over to Jon Standen, currently Head of Plymouth College in England. “Naturally I will be very sad to say goodbye to this marvellous school. The community here is so strong and so giving. However, I know the school is in great shape, and I know, that Jon will come in with fresh ideas and settle straight into the challenge of taking the school to the next level for our children, ably supported by a fantastic teaching faculty, administration team and engaged parents.
I will be continuing to work with the Harrow Asia group at a regionally strategic level, based in Hong Kong. It’s very exciting contemplating founding schools. Harrow School in London has stood for 450 years, imagine founding an institution that will, at its inception, already be linked to 450 years and more of history. That’s what the future holds.