Meet The Head At KGV: Mark Blackshaw

Since taking on the role of principal at ESF’s King George V in 2017, Mark Blackshaw has been developing a new vision that empowers students to “be their own remarkable”.
Meet The Head At KGV: Mark Blackshaw
By Carli Allan
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When Mark Blackshaw moved into his new position as principal at ESF’s King George V (KGV) school in 2017, he inherited one of Hong Kong’s oldest, largest and top-performing secondary schools. Far from resting on his laurels, Blackshaw has spent his first year in the role driving and inspiring changes to make KGV truly “remarkable”.

Read our review of ESF's KGV here.

Previously principal at Helensvale State High School in Australia, Blackshaw brings his warm Aussie spirit and passion for education to his new role. As he enters his second academic year at KGV, speaks to Blackshaw about his focus on personalising learning and creating a “school for one”.

What has been your biggest achievement so far since joining KGV?

We’ve reimagined our purpose to ‘be your own remarkable’. It’s really important to us as we believe that our kids are remarkable but in different ways. You can be good at sport, strong academically, or you can be a student that’s showing incredible improvement. We think that it’s important to bring all those things out in students.

Our vision is to personalise learning because that’s the future of the world. When I came here I got the history, the heritage and the tradition of the school and how proud people are to be a KGV-er. I really felt that sense of pride and belonging in the school. I wanted to acknowledge that, but also ask what kind of school do you want to be moving forward? We’re trying to be a school for one, where every student has a sense of belonging. We’ve put a greater focus on personalised learning as I believe that it’s the future of education.

KGV has a strong academic record, and 25% of your students scored 40-plus in the 2018 IBDP. How are you meeting the needs of students of all abilities though?

We have two learning pathways because we think that every student is important. We want to maximise every student’s potential. I can’t say it’s a school for one if we only offer only one pathway. We need to offer a choice of subjects and having that personalised experience once they get to the right course. When you have that along with strong career advice, students end up getting something they are really proud of and comfortable with.

We only had one student out of 200 who didn’t get their IBDP, and we want to make that zero. However, we also offer a vocational BTEC programme where students go to St Martin’s College in London to study the art BTEC; we have about 15% of our students who do that. Out students go to some of the best art and business colleges in the world, from studying the BTEC diploma. We’re really conscious that not everyone wants to do the IB diploma, not everyone loves academic learning, and we’re in the process of introducing the IBCP too.

As a large school with a student body of 1,800 children, how can you personalise learning for each and every one?

There’s a world of opportunities that comes from being a big school as we can offer so many different subjects, because we have so much expertise and so many staff. We still have 16 students in an IB physics class, no matter how big the school is. So where it really counts, that relationship with the teacher doesn’t change.

We also have an incredible house spirit. There’s a mini sense of belonging in the school in your house. It connects students indifferent ways indifferent groups, which doesn’t make it feel as big. And vertical tutor groups gets students to mix with students across three different year levels, they tell learning stories, what it’s like to start IGCSEs etc. Peer mentoring is probably more powerful than what we can do as teachers. They have lived the experience.

At KGV, you’ve included students in the traditional. Why is this so important to give students this voice?

You can’t create a school for one, unless you listen to your students. Our students are the most important thing in our world and they helps us shape where we take our school. It’s important for them to hear their voice in different ways as they get a sense of collaboration, support and sharing.

How does wellbeing fit into the curriculum at KGV?

We have a dedicated wellbeing team, and dedicated 20-minute tutor time every day. If kids are not feeling well and comfortable, then they will struggle academically. We play a lead role in educating our community of parents that wellbeing is the fundamental of academics, it’s one of the key drivers for that. We have lots of parent evenings around mobile phone use, gaming addiction and so on. It takes a whole community to raise a child, and we want to play a central role in that.

The pressures that these students sometimes but themselves under, we have to help manage their expectations. We’re very big on the idea of the growth mindset. The most powerful word I think in the English language is the word ‘yet’. You’re not getting an A… yet. You’re haven’t got to Cornell University… yet. It gives them the idea that there is a second chance, and you can learn and grow. There’s always a yet.

Read more about KGV in our Experience tour of the campus here.

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