Meet the Head at Sha Tin College, Carol Larkin

Carol Larkin inherited a hugely popular and oversubscribed secondary school when she took over as principal of ESF Sha Tin College (STC) last year. But, far from being complacent, Larkin explains how she is embracing change and striving for higher standards in all areas.
Meet the Head at Sha Tin College, Carol Larkin
By Carli Allan
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Carol Larkin took over the helm of the English Schools Foundation’s highest performing school during a period of change. Since joining ESF Sha Tin College (STC) as principal in April 2017, Larkin has steered this popular secondary school through the introduction of IB’s Middle Years Programme (MYP), seen the opening of a school extension, and is now participating in ESF’s first wellbeing survey.

Read our review of Sha Tin College here. For the ESF Sha Tin College experience, click here.

Formerly head of secondary at Renaissance College Hong Kong (RCHK), and with more than 10 years’ experience working in international schools, Ms Larkin has the expertise and enthusiasm to drive this school of 1,200 students into the future.

During the hugely popular and very busy annual CAS Week, the head of STC shared with WhichSchoolAdvisor.com how this well-established ESF school is focused on turning out well-rounded, successful and healthy student leaders.

One of your main challenges since joining Sha Tin College has been to oversee the introduction of the IB Middle Years Programme. As head of secondary at Renaissance College Hong Kong, you spent several years working with the MYP. So, do you welcome the change in curriculum here at STC?

The introduction of the MYP is a challenge for all ESF schools as it’s quite a different curriculum framework. Different schools are at different stages of the MYP, and we are in our first year of the programme. I think it’s a real opportunity for me to join the school at such a key moment in terms of its own development. While the MYP programme is different, it offers such a wonderful educational opportunity.

I think ESF went with the decision wisely to introduce this three-year MYP programme for Years 7-9. It feeds into the IGCSE programme in Years 10-11 and is an excellent preparation for the DP or the recently introduced IBCP. It’s a very good continuum.

STC has had the highest IB results in the ESF group for two years’ running. How do you explain the school’s strong academic record?

Our parents are ambitious for their children but, when we speak to parents first and foremost, they want their children to be happy and to find their passions. Our students are exceptionally hardworking, and very committed, and embrace all the opportunities that this school has to offer. And our teachers are also hardworking, very committed to the students, and many are very experienced with all the programmes. It’s a wonderful combination of these three things that leads to the success of our students. It all comes out in the results, and also in many other ways as well.



How is STC excelling in non-academic areas as well?

We’re very proud of our academic results and our students work very hard for them, but they are not just getting excellent results. There’s a whole lot of other things going on here.

We showcase this on social media, for example on our Instagram pages for the principal, art department, and the current CAS Week. It’s like having Post-its that you throw out to the universe saying, these are all the wonderful things that are going on at our school.

We want every student to find something that they’re passionate about, so when we’re recruiting teachers, we’re recruiting for that diversity. Every youngster should find something they love and a teacher that loves it too. There’s nothing on our Instagram posts about exam results, it’s all about things like our debating club, service learning, competitive activities and other events.

What are the benefits of being part of the ESF group, which is Hong Kong’ largest provider of English-medium international education?

ESF is like a family but, as much as we’re all part of a bigger foundation, each school has its own individual personality that’s dictated by its own student community. We all look different, have different structures etc. We are not cookie-cutter schools.

As an ESF school, though, our children get the opportunity to interact with students from other ESF schools, in debates, cooking competitions, sporting events etc. The group also has very proactive school environmental and sustainability council that offers leadership opportunities at every year level.

At STC, we regularly have external visitors coming in, theatre workshops, artists in residence and so on. It can be difficult for single schools to afford all of these things. When you put 22 schools – or seven secondary schools – together, getting that theatre company to come in is easier. Our students really benefit from the synergy of ESF and from being part of a lovely community school.



How is STC developing student leaders in such a large school of around 1,200 children?

The student council organises its own elections, vets the candidates, makes the decisions etc. Although they have a teacher supervisor, they are not running it – the students are. When you give students genuine leadership, they can often be more exacting than the teachers, and much more direct in their feedback to the students.

We also have student leadership around environment and sustainability, service learning, house spirit. Students in Year 9 can apply to be peer supporters, and a group of our counsellors train them to be ambassadors around the school. There’s a wonderful balance between the confidence of the students and the teachers having trust in them – and when that works really well, the students will never let you down.

What support do you offer to students who need additional learning support?

We’ve expanded our SEN provision for up to 32 students, and it’s reassuring for families coming through from Sha Tin Junior that they don’t have to find a new secondary school. For the most part, these students are integrated into mainstream classes but we now also have a lovely learning enhancement centre where we provide bespoke classes. It’s a wonderful space for SEN students to go to if they need some familiarity, down time etc.

Much as we have outstanding exam results, we are an inclusive and non-selective school and based on that, our academic achievements – as well as all our other achievements – are all the more remarkable.



STC is taking part in ESF’s new wellbeing survey, an online questionnaire to assess the well-being of your school community. Why is this so important to the growth of the school?

Wellbeing is a very hot issue in Hong Kong, and there’s a genuine concern and growing recognition that schools need to provide increased counselling support for students. It’s a very driven place that we live in, and there are concerns about stress levels and suicide rates. There’s not a huge amount of space here, so it can feel very frenetic.

The survey is an interesting pilot project and it’s being sent out to staff, students and parents at every ESF school. This is an opportunity for ESF to gather a sense of how everyone perceives themselves in terms of wellbeing.

How is STC already supporting the health and wellbeing of the many students you have on campus?

We’re already focusing on counselling, and we will be adding a dedicated counselling space on the ground floor of our main building. We’ve also got a very robust guidance system that sees tutors spending quality time with their students; they join them in Year 7 and stay with them until Year 13. It’s important for students to have that sense of belonging and feel that someone ‘understands you’. We also have events such as Kindness Week that address bullying.

We also have access to an excellent social worker who’s funded by the Hong Kong government. When you’re dealing with parents, particularly in Cantonese and you can’t access the language easily, they can be an amazing support. It’s much appreciated.

 

If you are interested in finding out more, read our review of Sha Tin College here. For the ESF Sha Tin College experience, click here.

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