The challenges and opportunities of international schools

Cranleigh Abu Dhabi – a new chapter 

Martin Reader (Cranleigh School) 

Abu_Dhabi_9645On the morning of Sunday 14 September 2014 on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, Cranleigh opened its doors to 638 new Cranleigh pupils, 64 teachers, 23 classroom assistants and 24 support staff.

This was the culmination of three and a half years of work which started from an idea from an Old Cranleighan and Mike Wilson, the Head of Cranleigh Prep School. The Cranleigh team, led by Mike, travelled to Abu Dhabi over 15 times to put in place finance, convince the Governing Body in the UK, sort out schemes of work, recruit staff and plan the buildings that would turn a desert into a school. The school began with children from age 3 to Year 9, with the first cohort of IGCSE students starting in 2015, and A levels commencing in 2016. There are currently 950 students with the potential to grow to 1,500 at full capacity.

Importantly, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi was to echo the ethos of Cranleigh UK with provision for sport, creative and performing arts; it has two full-sized grass playing fields, unheard of in the Middle East, sports hall, swimming pools and a 650-seater auditorium. Pastoral care and excellent relationships between staff and pupils are central aims: 54 teachers are housed on site in a teacher apartment block.

However, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi is not just a copy of Cranleigh. International syllabi have to be adjusted to include local history, culture and language and fulfil local authority requirements. For Mike Wilson, “we wanted Abu Dhabi to be a partner school, not a satellite. We’re interested in translating Cranleigh, not transplanting it.”

The main impetus for the venture was to bring extra funds to Cranleigh for bursaries and facilities so that the school does not have to rely on increasing fee income to sustain its future. Money is beginning to come back to Cranleigh and will steadily rise as the pupil numbers grow.

However, Cranleigh UK believes that there is opportunity which reaches beyond financial gain. There has been a regular interchange of staff. Whilst this began as quality assurance visits, it soon became clear that 100 new staff full of innovation and different perspectives was a rich sharing resource. For example, part of our Year 6 humanities course now focuses on Islam, with a huge input from Abu Dhabi. The first video-linked classroom lessons have taken place and, in April 2016, 30 musicians from Cranleigh and Cranleigh Prep visited Cranleigh Abu Dhabi to take part in workshops; together they performed songs from Oliver! as part of the Abu Dhabi Arts Festival.

This broadening of perspective is part of a wider mission to educate a new generation of international citizens and the Middle East is at the interface between different cultures. Whilst 35% of the pupils at Cranleigh Abu Dhabi are from the UK, 30% are from North America and 10% are local Emiratis. The remaining pupils are from 48 other countries. A truly international network of alumni who will be influential on the world stage did not escape the Old Cranleighan Society, which has readily welcomed leavers into the fold. For those in the leafy Surrey bubble at a predominantly local boarding school, the educational benefit is clear.

King’s College – an Indian Vision

Richards Biggs (King’s College, Taunton)

Anshul Kumar, David Boddy, Brad Sailes, Richard Biggs, Ashima NarwalA few years ago, King’s College, Taunton, signed up to be represented in India by David Boddy’s ASIS group and, as a result, we have welcomed four outstanding Indian scholars to King’s College over the past three years, pupils who have added tremendous value to the school.

David was then approached by a group of developers based in Rohtak, north of Delhi, who wanted to set up a new international school in that city, having already enjoyed success with a thriving local school. They are Rohtak born and
educated (the city is traditionally known as an educational centre) and were keen to invest in the community.

A few months of hard negotiation followed. This is not a franchise model: King’s is a partner in the enterprise, bringing expertise and successful branding. There is a financial side to it – a share of turnover in due course – but I consider there to be significant benefits for my school which go well beyond the financial.

King’s College, India, will start out with prepschool- age pupils and grow to become a full 5-18 school, offering Common Entrance at 13, IGCSEs at 16 and, most likely, A levels in the Sixth Form. The first pupils are due to arrive in August. Our first appointment was the new Headmaster, who happens to be an old boy of King’s College, Taunton, Brad Sailes, who has gathered around him an expert team of senior staff who are working hard to get the school  ready for its opening in a few months’ time.

The plan is for the school, when it is full, to be predominantly boarding, with a significant day minority (closely mirroring the set-up in Taunton). The boarding will be a mixture of weekly (from Delhi, Gurgaon and Chandigarh) and full-term. Day pupils will come from Rohtak and Delhi.

Being in on the ground from the start has been fascinating and daunting in equal measure. I have visited the site several times and am amazed at the transformation even over the past few months. A great deal remains to be done, though, and I suspect we will go right down to the wire to get it all ready for the first pupils.

For me the fascination lies in the details: how do we adapt our curriculum for an Indian context? (We’ll teach Sanskrit instead of Latin in the prep school). How do we adapt our uniform? (Heavy West Country tweed might not be that appropriate in the blazing heat of an Indian summer). How do we translate our Christian foundation into the context of a school with Hindu, Muslim and Christian pupils? (Embrace them all; develop the spiritual in each pupil). What games should be offered? (Cricket, of course! Swimming, tennis, football, hockey, basketball and golf…there is a three-hole course on site. No rugby). These and other matters are discussed in my weekly Skype meetings involving the team in Rohtak.

This is an exciting adventure. It will work because of the enthusiasm and commitment of the people behind the project and because we offer a brand of education that will resonate in India, while progress has not always been smooth, the determination and belief of the people on the ground has seen us past the tricky moments. I am confident that King’s College, India will soon be leading the way for British education on the subcontinent.

Malvern College – challenges and opportunities

Antony Clark (Malvern College)

Malvern College Qingdao IMG_0258 editAs I write this article I am somewhere over Outer Mongolia, cruising at 35,000 feet, on my way back from the foundation stone laying ceremony for our new school in Hong Kong, due to open in 2018. This will be Malvern’s fourth overseas school, with two schools already open on the Chinese mainland and a third due to open in Cairo later this year.

The allure of China and the Middle East in particular has prompted something of a goldrush mentality amongst some UK independent schools, as institutions look to stake their claims and open up rich seams of opportunity abroad. The typical business model adopted for such ventures certainly appears attractive to many at face value, with a potentially major stream of revenue emanating from a relatively modest investment of time and resource. This is particularly the case for schools like Malvern where the capital investment in setting up schools abroad has been entirely in the hands of business partners.

The reality, of course, is much more complex. Perhaps one of the most fundamental issues facing all schools operating overseas is that of authenticity. To create a successful international school bearing your name is, at a superficial level, relatively straightforward. To create a successful international school that genuinely shares the values and ethos of your school in the UK is much harder, and the role of the Head is central if anything more than an arms-length franchise arrangement is envisaged.

This, naturally, brings its own challenges, and governing bodies will rightly be concerned at the increased pressures brought to bear on the Heads of such internationally minded schools as they strive to protect reputation and transfer ethos in what is often a wholly different culture.

At Malvern we have mitigated these concerns, to some extent, through the development of a dedicated international schools team based at the College, as well as through our strategy of actively seeking to widen the exposure of our teaching staff to our international programme, through their involvement in overseas inspections and inter-departmental liaison across our schools and, at the same time, to ensure that at least the leaders of the international schools have a fortnight’s immersion at Malvern in the UK.

On a more practical level, the recruitment of very able UK-qualified teaching staff is one of the biggest challenges facing international schools. With substantial recent and ongoing growth in the international schools sector, it is likely to become increasingly challenging. In order to recruit and retain the best teaching staff it will be necessary for schools to offer excellent
CPD opportunities as well as creating a real sense of community in their overseas offshoots. Disruption to education for the children of teachers, concerns about accommodation and cultural isolation, too, are often cited by job applicants as being considerations in accepting jobs as important as the salary package itself. In short, only those teachers with a pioneering
spirit survive for longer than a couple of years and this can impact significantly on the nature of such schools.

Despite the very real pressures and challenges involved in establishing and developing a successful overseas school, the benefits can be considerable and should not be measured in purely financial terms. Pupils and teachers begin to link with each other across many miles, reflecting today’s more global society, and it is, perhaps, in these terms that we have truly struck gold.

This is an edited version of an article in issue 6 of HMC Insight Magazine. Click here to view the full article.