Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong has hit the ground running, find out more.
Walking around the campus of Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong it’s impossible not to be impressed. But, as school principal Ben Keeling passionately highlights, it’s what is at the heart of Shrewsbury that really stands out, not the shiny new building and its incredible facilities. We meet for a chat before touring the campus, so that I can get a feel for the school before being blown away by the material side of things.
Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong opened to pupils in August 2018. Impressively, the Shrewsbury board took the admirable step of recruiting Ben as principle two years before opening. Consequently, the preparations for opening day were carefully considered and the school had a presence long before welcoming its first students. Ben was involved in planning right from the start.
The school, which is a Primary specialist school, follows the English National Curriculum. It’s a fairly academic curriculum, but, as Ben points out, primary education is about so much more than that. “The job of a primary school is to shape the child so that they thrive socially and academically… Academics will always have a place; children need to learn to read independently, but it’s also about being able to hold yourself well. It’s about assisting in the journey.” Ben’s passion for his students is evident and he is deeply protective of them.
Enrollment is so far exactly where Shrewsbury wants it to be. When the school first opened it welcomed more than 200 students, there are now more than 300. Next year there will be approximately 500 and the overall capacity is 950. Although the plan is for the school to grow 40 per cent each year, there is no pressure on achieving the numbers. “I am a caretaker of this organisation, looking after the long term growth of the community,” Ben explains. He doesn’t want the school to grow too fast, he wants to protect the heart of the school. “Growth of over 40 per cent a year makes it challenging, schools often then suffer through a lack of culture.”
Who are the Shrewsbury families? There is a wide variety with a broad range of nationalities and backgrounds. Many hold dual passports and have dual heritage backgrounds. Some are aspirational toward the boarding experience for their child – be it with the prestigious Shrewsbury School in the UK or elsewhere. Life after Shrewsbury International Hong Kong is something that Ben is frequently asked about. “Why is it only a Primary school? What if my child can’t get into a secondary school…” these are frequent concerns for parents. “We made a conscious decision not to open a secondary school on this campus,” explains Ben. “There is not another school in Hong Kong that offers what we do for Primary children. A shared facility means compromise, and this affects the younger students.” Shrewsbury hasn’t had to compromise.
Now onto the facilities. When you explore the school and look at the remarkable facilities, you could easily be at a Secondary school. There are four areas for PE. The dedicated gymnastics area is the best we have ever seen (even compared to a top end gymnastics club in the UK); there are two indoor swimming pools. But there are only primary age children here. There are no big kids taking priority. All these facilities were designed for children age three to eleven years. One swimming pool is shallow for learning to swim, the other larger pool is one-metre deep. These facilities are incredibly impressive in their own right, but when you consider that they were designed for younger children and are dedicated to them, they are even more extraordinary. The same is true of the classrooms, the play areas and the dining areas; each has been created for primary age children. Each is afforded a generous amount of space, too.
In terms of moving onto Secondary school, Ben and his staff are on hand from Year 4 with advice and assistance that rivals some of the professional education advisors. When asked the question “but what happens in Year 7?” Ben’s answer is clear, children can go wherever they want to go. “Demand is at the bottom end. In year 7 or 8 –even at the most selective schools – places open up.” A good Primary is not necessarily a good Secondary setting.
We discuss the logic and chances of selecting a school for your child when they are two years old that will still suit them when they are 13. It’s a valid point! “Parents have the full weight of the school behind them. We work through what is available in Hong Kong and further afield,” he explains. “Rather than being desperate, in year 8, 9, 10 the world is your oyster. Every school has a vested interest in taking children”.
Ben and the Shrewsbury team are invested in people. “If people lose that you can tell. You can smell it in their schools.” Seeing Ben leave the auditorium after auditions for the Aladdin-themed pantomime, and seeing him on the staircase waving goodbye to the children, his investment and care for the school community is clear. As Ben puts it, “I’m proud of the facility, but more proud of the community”.