Tara Jenkins talks to Ben Keeling, head of Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong, about the benefits of a school that focuses on primary years.
There’s an obvious attraction to enrolling a three-year old in a school that will educate him or her right up until 18 but Ben Keeling, the young and energetic head of the new Shrewsbury International School, thinks education planning is a far more complex affair.
“How on earth can you tell if a child is right for A Levels when they’re four?”
he asks. “A Levels suit children with spiky profiles, but maybe your child will have a more general profile, and IB might be a better qualification? Or perhaps you’ve never thought about sending your child away to board, but all indications are they might thrive in that setting? Or you’ve always been set on boarding for your child, but it may not be the right option for him?”
Keeling sees the finding of answers to these and other important questions surrounding the children in his care, as a vital part of his new role as Principal of the international primary school, which is due to open in Tseung Kwan O in August 2018. Shrewsbury, which will offer four classes of 20 in nursery and reception and then six classes for the remaining primary year groups, will accept children from three years up to the age of 11. Keeling will then work with parents to ensure his charges make exactly the right next step; whether that is secondary education in Hong Kong or abroad – perhaps, even, at the prestigious Shrewsbury senior school in Shropshire, UK, itself.
“We’re looking for individual pathways for kids,” he explains. “Although we aren’t strictly a prep school, we are preparing children for the right senior setting. That is my job”. Part of that preparation is the provision of an impressive new campus, which Keeling describes as a highly-specialised facility.
“Because we are a primary specialist, we haven’t had to make any compromises, so every element of the school has been specifically designed for young people. We have a dance studio for dance, a drama studio for drama; a sports hall for athletics, and a gymnastics Centre of Excellence, which will be the best in Hong Kong. Primary education is all about experiences, broadening horizons and having a really good go: we’re trying to spark imagination and ambition for the future, and do it in a way which is truly appropriate. It’s no-compromise primary education”.
Shrewsbury has been operating a primary school in Bangkok for 15 years now with such success a second campus is due to open later this year, and Keeling is working alongside the head and the Headmaster of Shrewsbury UK to ensure Hong Kong is aligned with the same educational aims and values: namely, high quality, specialist education.
“Of course, breadth of study is important, as is academic aspiration,” he says.
“A sharing and nurturing community is also vital, and at the heart of the school. None of this means anything, however, unless the children are tangible recipients of it: that the experiences and opportunities you give them are representative of those values.”
Admissions opened a couple of weeks ago and is described as ‘gently selective’; children and parents attend interviews and some academic selection tests, but Keeling is quick to point out that selection at the age of three is at best, random.
“Part of the reason for the assessment process is to ensure we can cater for the needs of every child we offer a place, and to be certain parents understand our offer, and are willing to buy in from the start,” he explains.
He’s happy about the recent influx of international schools into Hong Kong, believing it offers parents proper choice, for the first time in a while.
“I am pro-family choice when it comes to schools, and feel completely comfortable in a competitive environment,” he claims.
“When looking for a school, I advise parents to meet with the head – it’s hugely important, because he or she sets the ethos and the culture. Look them in the eye and trust your gut feeling: do they seem like the sort of person you could work with? If a child comes in at three, they’re basically signing up for nine years of me,” he adds.
“That’s a long-term commitment!” Something tells us parents aren’t going to be disappointed.
This article appeared in Playtimes May Issue 2017.
More about schools in Hong Kong here