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Our Kids Interview: Get to know Thames British School

Our Kids speaks to Gary Lycett, director of recruitment



Thames British School operates on four campuses in Warsaw and on its outskirts, offering a total range of education levels—from nursery to high school (2.5-18 years). The school keeps growing and expanding—recently it took over the Meridian International School network.

Our Kids talks to Gary Lycett, who is Britsh and has been living and working in Poland for years, a passionate teacher and head of the school's recruitment department.  continue reading...


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Students

Our Kids: Who are the students at Thames School?

Gary Lycett: We have a very diverse student community. Our students come from many countries and the distinctive feature of our school is that there is no one dominant group. We have students from British, Canadian, Polish, Chinese, but also Turkish, Estonian, and Icelandic families. Our students' families are mainly members of the international business community. Many older international schools have a large percentage of Polish children, who constitute the majority, whereas we have great balance and diversity.

Our Kids: What attracts families to your school and makes them choose your school from among all the British schools in Warsaw?

Gary Lycett: Our competitive pricing certainly plays an important role, but also the fact that we quickly obtained the prestigious Cambridge and IB accreditations. We also offer a unique option of a free "trial session": five days at our school, which consists of all school activities, meals, so that for those few days children and their families can experience first-hand what our school is like from the "inside."

Teachers

Our Kids: Who teaches at your school?

Gary Lycett: We started with local teachers like me who taught at other international schools in Warsaw. When I started working at Thames, I recommended other teachers who, like me, believed in our vision. Now that we’re growing, we’re getting teachers from outside Poland—we advertise in the Times Education Supplement, the prestigious educational supplement of the English newspaper The Times.

Our Kids: Are most of your teachers British?

Gary Lycett: Yes, but we also have highly qualified Polish teachers. Some have taught in other countries, including Britain. The class teachers, as in the British system, teach most of the core curriculum, e.g., math, the humanities, etc., except for, for example, PE, music, IT, and languages. But we also have teachers who are subject specialists.

The curriculum

Our Kids: You implement two curricula—British Cambridge and IB. How is the school dealing with it?

Gary Lycett: We’re currently accredited to offer the full Cambridge curriculum and are starting the Cambridge High School program this year—IGCSE course. We have all the materials collected and the program will launch in autumn. The biggest challenge is Year 10, which in the British system is the equivalent of the last year of Polish primary school (Grade 8). Students will have to take the obligatory Polish eighth-grade exams and start our new program at the same time.

Our Kids: And the IB Programme?

Gary Lycett: The IB Programme will continue until it possibly gets replaced by A-levels. It all depends on how this transition process goes.

Languages

Our Kids: Please tell us about language education at Thames.

Gary Lycett: There are currently some changes in how education authorities deal with international schools. When it comes to teaching Polish, the division between Polish and foreign students will cease to exist. Everyone will be treated the same. So we have to find ways to differentiate the program delivery for different groups. It’s precisely this diversity that is our strength—that we do not treat all students as if they were identical. We must ensure that students with various levels of mastery of the Polish language can learn Polish history or literature. All in all, this isn’t much different from situations when we need to help students who are less advanced in English master the English curriculum.

Our Kids: How do you do it?

Gary Lycett: We rely on teachers' assistants, and this year we’re also expanding our EAL—English as an Additional Language support department, which offers intensive English courses in mid-August two weeks before the start of the school year. Other schools do not have such a program. Even students who come to us with very little knowledge of English quickly acquire the skills they need to study at our school. We’re also thinking of implementing a similar program for Polish.

Our Kids: Students at Thames also learn other languages. What languages are they and how intensive is the course?

Gary Lycett: We teach Spanish starting at nursery school, first one hour a week, and then at the primary school stage—two hours. In primary school, we now have a choice between English and German, and in secondary school, between Spanish, German, and French. Polish is mandatory.

The aim is not only making children learn the languages ​​as well as possible, but also engaging them in many valuable activities and acquiring critical knowledge.

The unique character and achievements of the school

Our Kids: What are you most proud of?

Gary Lycett: We strive to promote our vision of the school and it’s important to us that parents can see us as we are. We’re glad that our school parents believe so much in our vision of education that they share this satisfaction with others.

Our school is completely student-focused, we don’t impose ready-made concepts on students. The motto of our school is everything that happens is focused on the student. We don’t divide students into groups according to advancement: all are treated as individuals of the same value. We want every student to feel proud of what they’ve done, what they’ve learned, and to be willing to share with others what the process was like and how they experimented in reaching knowledge.

And this is the unique feature of our school, the so-called shared learning, which isn’t done by other schools, neither in Poland, nor in other prestigious foreign schools that I have had contact with, including also in Great Britain. Usually, students don’t know what their peers are doing or learning—while the principle of our school is that everyone has access to it. We believe students should share and explain to each other what they’ve learned and how their learning has proceeded.

Students share it not only with other students but also with parents, sharing their achievements, but also how they got there.

Communication is important to us and we believe in open communication—that’s why we always inform parents about how we work and consult them. As a school, we want to be close to parents. When we have a new topic, we develop the goals we want to achieve and communicate them to parents through an excellent communication tool called Tapestry, and parents can track their children's progress.

The second way in which we implement our shared learning principle is through our Learning Success Days. It's a full day at our school, organized twice a semester, when children of different age groups share what they’ve learned—older kids with younger ones, younger with older. It’s possible in a small school like ours. Maybe when we expand even further, we will devote a full week to it.

We also combine it with open days. In the afternoon we invite parents to see the progress of students from different grades. We invite parents of our current students, but also parents interested in our school. It’s a very popular event that makes a big impression on the parents of new students. This is not a typical show of children—we want students to share the process and effects of their learning.

The culture of our school is also unique—this closeness between students and teachers, community, ease of interaction, shared sense of humour, respect for diversity—the diversity of peers, as well as teachers who also come from all over the world. Familiarity with other cultures and openness to them is a great asset, useful in the rest of each student’s life.

Challenges

Our Kids: Do you face any challenges?

Gary Lycett: It certainly wasn’t easy organizing all the necessary resources, materials, and equipment. Now everything is ready. For example, we’re currently renovating a completely neglected playground on Wawelska Street, which we took over.

The challenge is also to unify the nature of work and learning in our four locations. The Meridian School we took over has a more Polish character than our other campuses. The challenge is to bring our own very open style, typical of the Thames School, to this new campus. But I'm sure it will work out, because parents know each other and talk, so they learn more about us, not only from us directly, but also from other parents who already have experience with our Thames model.

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