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Our Kids Interview: Get to know The British School Warsaw

Our Kids speaks to the principal of The British School Warsaw



Established in 1992, The British School Warsaw, has grown from 38 to well over 1000 students and is a truly international community with over 50 nationalities. TBS is part of the global Nord Anglia Education family of schools. It offers education from nursery through high school. It follows the English national curriculum and in the last two years - the IB Diploma programme.  continue reading...


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Our Kids speaks with Sue Hill, who has been the school principal since the beginning of the 2020/2021 school year. (the transcript of the main points is below)

Please listen to this conversation:

This is the transcript of the key parts of Our Kids' interview with Sue Hill:

Connection to Nord Anglia

Our Kids: Let’s talk about the connection of your school to Nord Anglia because this is its very unique feature. What does it really mean for the school and the school community?

Sue Hill: Nord Anglia is growing year by year in the number of schools; we have 69 schools worldwide at the moment and they cover all the continents. The connection is about getting clarity and direction that is advantageous to the staff, the students, and for the community in general. The main function is to shape global mindedness and to produce global citizens who have a chance to collaborate with others across that network. Members of staff can go to Nord Anglia University, where there is a wealth of information, training, but also some really good professional dialogues which result from that connection across the schools in Europe and worldwide. We’re getting the information shared, but also improving together as an organization with the central hub directing us down different safety routes, but also education and learning. That’s where we struggled this past year because normally our students have lots of meetups with other students and many collaborations. We would have been planning to send our students to Tanzania, where we have a great project. Our students are involved in raising money but also the main aspect of the trip is to work together with other students from other Nord Anglia schools. It’s a village initiative to improve the lives of others, so there is a real community service element in it. The collaboration with other students from Nord Anglia is invaluable for our students. We also take our students to New York every year because there is a Model United Nations (MUN) there and they can put their points of view forward in some really important issues. We have MUN’s across Europe, so of course we are trying this virtually this year. We also have what we call the Global Campus, so now, in the virtual mode of learning, students can access many materials and activities in the health and well-being section. They can do yoga sessions, some exercise sessions, they can enter competitions. We have a virtual science fair and the students can access a lot of practical activities through the Global Campus. It opens a lot of doors to be truly internationally minded.

Our Kids: So we can say that the Global Campus is geared more towards the students and the Nord Anglia university offers resources for staff. Is this how it works?

Sue Hill: Yes. Every teacher has the opportunity to collaborate through Nord Anglia University. There are some essential training programs that are available through the university, for example safeguarding, health and safety aspects in regular times, but also well-being in COVID, which is pertinent to these times. There are many courses that we ask our staff to complete. Some of them are voluntary but there are also some core courses. It opens up a dialogue, and there are lots of communities that are formed within Nord Anglia University. We also have lots of leadership training, so we try to grow our own leaders.

Our Kids: Does being part of the Nord Anglia network affect the school’s choice of curriculum and its methodology of teaching?

Sue Hill: No, it doesn’t. Although we have many overriding policies, procedures, and directions as an organization, we are still all unique. You will find different types of schools within the Nord Anglia network. Some are going through to A-levels, some to IB. Some schools in North America will cover a different curriculum. So it’s not all British curriculum by any means. We have our unique footprint as well, and our unique mission and vision.

Curriculum

Our Kids: Your model is interesting because you first go through the English National Curriculum and then in the last two years you switch to IB. Why was that choice made?

Sue Hill: We thrive on rigour. The British curriculum has a standardized approach across all schools in Britain, which some people say is the real selling point. Because, if you have international families and they will be going country to country, a curriculum that is standardized can give kids progression even though they change schools.

But we also recognize that being out of the UK, certainly for the primary topic-based approach, we need a more international stance. So we go for the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) which we believe has more rigour than PYP or MYP, which lead to the IB diploma program. The IPC has a topic-based approach, but the topics are very global in their perspective. It has the objectives from the British curriculum taught through those international topics. It has very clear assessment criteria and a very clear progression. We find this rigour is very useful for our system. From this program children go on to the secondary level. We like to keep that rigour. So at the age of 16 they take IGCSE, which is a standardized exam, and then they go to the IB diploma programme. We believe that it has the international dimension and is a passport to universities worldwide. The A-levels are very good but they are narrow focused and you have to narrow down your options subject-wise. Whereas the IB diploma programme includes additions, such as the Extended Essay, the CAS program – your community service, which is invaluable and has real impact on our students who feel they can make a difference in the world. We feel that the preparation and the diverse nature of the international diploma is very attractive for our students.

Our Kids: Would you describe your school as more academically minded or taking care of the so-called soft skills, or is there a balance between them? What is the ethos of the school?

Sue Hill: Academics go hand-in-hand with building character traits. Basically, we want to prepare children for a world that none of us know what it’s going to be like, so characteristics such as an ability to collaborate, to problem solve, to be adaptable and flexible are essential alongside an academic program. If you’re able as a learner to have those skills and learn in a way that prepares you for the world after the IB program, it helps you with the academics as well and in the preparation for the 21st century. If students are happy, they learn faster and better. Creativity is hugely important to the 21st-century learner. And many of our subjects focus on aspects of performing arts. We have an affiliation with the Juilliard School in America. In normal times, we have guests from Juilliard come to visit us and direct us further in drama, dance, and music. And this aspect of creativity, whether you choose it to go to exam level or just enjoying that form of expression, is hugely important. So I think our curriculum is diverse, it has rigour, and those skills that you called soft skills are essential to develop a rounded individual and to bring success later in life.

Our Kids: What do you mean by rigour?

Sue Hill: You need to know your targets, where you’re heading, and what you have been successful in, all the way from the foundation stage to the diploma. We believe in the students getting quality feedback, which will direct them on the path to make them want to do better than they ever possibly thought they could, beyond their limits.

Students

Our Kids: Who are your students?

Sue Hill: We have 59 nationalities at our campus. This number has grown slightly in the last few years. Just under 50% of our students are Polish.

Teachers

Our Kids: And what about your teachers?

Sue Hill: We have a lot of British teachers. Our language teachers are native Spanish or French speakers, and we have Polish teachers teaching the Polish language.

Our Kids: Do your international teachers usually stay for a longer period of time, or do they come for a few years and leave?

Sue Hill: We have a core of teachers who have stayed with us for many years. They came here and got married to Polish nationals. We also have some Polish nationals who were qualified in the UK and returned to Poland. And we have international teachers and British teachers who have come straight from the UK and are on an international journey, so they spend a few years here and then leave to continue their adventure elsewhere.

Alumni

Our Kids: Do you try to keep track of your alumni to know where they study?

Sue Hill: Yes, it’s important for us to know that our students are successful and happy and to keep those connections. We do celebrate our alumni. A lot of students look at the UK because they value the universities there. With Brexit, it was a little bit uncertain as to what the fees would be and how it would affect students who are not British. So, just in case, a lot of students were looking at other universities elsewhere in Europe. Having an international diploma gives them a good choice.

Admission system

Our Kids: In your materials, you say you have a non-selective admission system. What does this mean?

Sue Hill: We have children here who need support. They may need help in concentration, they may have dyslexia or mild autism - some form of learning needs. We have a very good learning support department which provides support, either in the form of withdrawals or in class. And we have highly academic students as well. Our teachers are well qualified to deal with their needs too.

Our Kids: So when a parent wants to enroll their child in your school, the child will be accepted without any entrance exams?

Sue Hill: The tests that are done around the entrance serve as an indication of the level of English, so we know if any support with English is needed. We also have a special department supporting students who need help with English, so any testing we have is used as an indicator of where to place the student rather than as a determining factor whether to accept a candidate or not. We invite our applicants to an interview, which is really meant to find out more about the student rather than to say yes or no. It’s important for us to have a plan of how to facilitate the students’ learning. We have to make sure we can provide the best learning environment for each child.

Languages

Our Kids: Do your international students have to study Polish?

Sue Hill: We work according to the guidelines of the Polish government, so the students study Polish, on different levels, of course.

Our Kids: The instruction is all in English. Do you teach other languages?

Sue Hill: Yes, we teach German, French, and Spanish.

The uniqueness of the school

Our Kids: You’re not the only British school in Warsaw. If somebody wants to send their kid to a Warsaw British school, why would they choose your school? What would you tell such parents?

Sue Hill: I’d say we have many years’ experience, we were the first British school, and its owner set up the school with her own children in mind. We are extremely diverse, which is very attractive for people who want to be more internationally minded and global in their outlook. The Nord Anglia connection means a collaboration with 69 schools all over the world, which is also very attractive to parents and students. In normal times, we have excellent provisions for trips also outside Poland -- we take children to international meetups, trips, and different types of adventures. We look at the rounded child, we focus on the rigour, and we have a curriculum that suits children of different abilities. The academic outcomes of the IB are very impressive.

The pandemic

Our Kids: How are you dealing with the pandemic?

Sue Hill: I arrived in August and we made sure that the teachers were prepared, flexible and adaptable, and ready to go to our virtual school provision. We knew this year was going to be very hard, with stops and starts, ups and downs. But planning everything, with learning at the heart, we also had to take care of the hygienic aspect. We decided to zone our campus into specific areas so that the students would not mix with others as they normally would. (listen to the video above for details)

And everybody’s online again and we are never complacent. We are listening to what the students have to say, we have been interviewing students virtually and listening to parents’ feedback. The parents have given us really positive feedback. I’m sure they realized that no teacher likes to be without a class, as the best thing about the teaching profession is the energy you get when you’re with children. It’s not the same when they’re on screen. Our parents have been wonderful with the fantastic things they’ve been saying to us. We try to be as creative as possible. We organize dance, cookery sessions, a virtual science fair and music activities, for example, a young musician of the year competition. We try to give our students off-screen time as well as on-screen time. The students have a very strict day schedule. They come in at 8 o’clock and say hello to the class teacher. The classes start at 8:15. The students have some time when they’re online and some off line, and they know that well-being is important and that they need to keep themselves energized.

We’re missing what makes us unique in many ways, things like that big international fair that we have every year with children wearing costumes, our dress-up day when they come dressed up, with parents attending the big celebration. This is what the school is good at and because of the COVID we have not been able to do that and our school trips and visits.

Our Kids: Is it difficult to be in charge of such a big school, with two campuses?

Sue Hill: Yes, our school has over 1000 students. In this period of time it’s hard for me to be as confident as I would like to be to know people - we have not been able to have big meetings of staff. And we’re all missing the children…

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