An International Education
Head of Newland College Darlene Fisher discusses preparing students to take on the unknown challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first and twenty-second centuries, with Venetia van Kuffeler
Newland College is a co-educational independent school offering the best of the English boarding school tradition within the International Baccalaureate (IB) framework. Newland College will open in September 2015. Students choose between full, weekly or day boarding, or can join as a day student.
Can you offer a brief outline of your main activities in the run-up to Newland College’s opening in September 2015?
Appointed in February 2014, my first job was to design the educational programme and develop the vision and mission for what type of school we are going to be. I am in the process of placing the people and structures we need to achieve that vision.
We’ve been clear from the start about what we want to do: to provide a school with a curriculum that is academically challenging, internationally focused and builds our students into resilient adults with the personal strength and core belief that they will need when it comes to dealing with the unknowns before them in the twenty-first century. Some of our students will still be facing unknowns into the twenty-second century, so we need to equip them for a long life of challenges and opportunities.
How did you arrive at this appointment? Could you offer a brief rundown of your career?
Newland College has been set up by SKOLA, a family-run education business that has offered internationally-focused schools in the UK for over 40 years. I met the founding partner Ben Toettcher at an international school governance workshop, where I was supporting and he attending. For me, having been involved in start-up schools previously, this was a very exciting opportunity. We have a truly remarkable location in Buckinghamshire – little more than half an hour from central London – and we have the chance to become one of the most attractive schools adjacent to one of the world’s most attractive cities.
My career in education started over 30 years ago. The past 15 years have been in international education, in a variety of positions including head and director of school. Each of my schools used the IB framework and were successful in getting a large proportion of our students into international universities. Since my first year in international education, I have been involved with the IB organisation as an examiner, curriculum designer or consultant. I know the IB structure through and through and am a passionate supporter of the rigorous academic offering as well as the philosophy that it requires schools to implement.
I wish to bring together my knowledge of the IB and my experience in schools, including boarding schools, to Newland College, to build something new in the region.
How will Newland College stand out in a country full of English boarding schools?
People around the world recognise the great British boarding school tradition, and this is something we embrace. We celebrate the traditional English boarding school strengths: a rigorous academic focus; and a challenging but supportive community combined with a strong focus on a broader curriculum that encompasses sporting, cultural and performing arts clubs and events. But we will bring this together with a modern outlook that is fit for the century that our students will live through, and all the challenges – political, societal, technological – that it will bring.
In contrast to the most traditional schools, we differentiate ourselves in two important ways. The first is our international attitude. This is codified in the IB framework in many interesting ways. It is also grounded in the global connections of our founding team, who have taught at schools in the UK, Australia, India, Turkey, Finland and elsewhere. The second is our commitment to helping young people develop personal strengths such as confidence and self-awareness. By emphasising such whole-child development, we teach children to have the resilience they will need to flourish, both in their IB studies, but perhaps most importantly, when they reach university and beyond. This is something very few schools are dealing with in a holistic way. If you build personal strength, a student can take on academic challenges and the unknowns of the future. We will bring an unusual combination and a greater depth to students at Newland College.
How will the IB framework benefit international students when compared to the British curriculum?
The IB is a curriculum designed to be portable, which is clearly useful if a student is likely to study in different countries during their school career. More than this, though – and this is something I have found resonates particularly with parents who hold a global outlook in their personal or professional lives – the IB gives students an understanding of issues around the globe, not just centred on a single nation state’s culture or history. Although, of course, the host nation is studied in great depth, which means Newland College students will have a particularly strong UK flavour, students in all subject areas will relate their studies to international issues and global historic perspectives. The IB expects students to study a second language by default, further emphasising the international nature of the outlook they develop.
Of course, for many international students, this is something they bring into the classroom and share with their British friends and colleagues. By the same token, they will benefit from gaining a deeper grasp of the British perspective by learning alongside local children during their time with us. The IB makes international students feel comfortable in an international school, but also prepares them for entry into the top British universities. There is mounting evidence that students like the IB as much if not more than the national curriculum, for the way it prepares children for the transition to university level academic studies.
What nationalities do you expect students to be?
We aim for 50 per cent of our students to be British, either living locally in Buckinghamshire, or boarding with parents living or working abroad. The rest of our student body will likely include students from all over the world, but particularly Europe, the US, Ukraine, Russia, Japan, China, Hong Kong, the Middle East and India. We are focused on finding the best students to fit into our international learning community, and look forward to a broad representation of the global community in our school.
Why is Newland College so suitable to serve diplomatic families posted in the UK?
We strike a balance between the English boarding school tradition with the IB curriculum and a multilingual student body. It’s the perfect environment for children who wish to grow up and develop an international outlook for their life and career. We can’t overlook our location: Buckinghamshire provides an idyllic setting in the peace and quiet of the countryside to help students and teachers build a great community of learners, but we also have access to London, one of the world’s most prestigious cities.
What breadth of extra-curricular activities will Newland College offer?
We have spacious facilities for drama, music and all the major sports such as football, rugby, cricket, tennis and swimming. We also place great stock in our students developing leadership skills and traits, so we encourage them to choose their own clubs, developing creativity. Staff have an exceptional range of skills and talents covering all sorts of sporting and creative pursuits, from developing education programmes for the Premier League to performing with the National Youth Music Theatre. Underpinning all of this is our belief in institutions such as a student parliament and a community-led approach to discipline. We wish to see students graduating from Newland College showing academic prowess but also being capable of mature reflection and responsibility.
Can you explain a bit more about Newland College’s approach to flexible boarding?
We’re blessed with an incredible amount of space, which means we can offer flexible options for parents and students. Students can choose full boarding for a whole term at a time, going home for holidays, or they could be a day student and occasionally decide to stay overnight. Or we expect to have students boarding during the week, especially perhaps when we’re spending a lot of time on a school project, such as a play, for example. We also provide our day students with study space in the school building, so they can use their free time for better study and reflection.
Has your personal experience of teaching in a variety of countries influenced your outlook on delivering a broader curriculum?
When you teach in a variety of countries, you learn that each country’s national curriculum focuses almost exclusively on itself with little to connect with other countries. And yet, as anyone who looks at the global economy knows, all nation states are interconnected, today more so than ever. Teaching about only one country is not doing students a service for the future. We need to show students how the world is connected; the impact countries have on one another. A modern curriculum has to provide a broader understanding than just the history, geography or literature of one country. Students need to understand and move between different countries and cultures, and understand the rationale and motives of different people and different institutions in different places.
A balance is what is required. Aside from a universal core of fundamental study of reading, writing and arithmetic, Newland College offers an international perspective on top of this, and also the ‘whole-child perspective’ of the curriculum – not just the academic – but the active, sporting, spiritual, emotional development…the ability to learn how to learn.
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