Meet The Head: Renaissance College Hong Kong

Dr Harry Brown, who has been principal at Renaissance College Hong Kong (RCHK) for nearly a decade, talks about the advantages of being an IB continuum school.
Meet The Head: Renaissance College Hong Kong
By Carli Allan
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Renaissance College Hong Kong (RCHK) takes its students on an educational journey from five through to 18 years old. One of two Private Independent Schools (PIS) owned by the English Schools Foundation (ESF), this all-through school is among a handful of schools worldwide to offer all four IB programmes.

Dr Harry Brown, who has been principal at RCHK since 2009, talks to about the advantages of offering the MYP and the IBCP, why wellbeing is as important as STEAM, and why parents are happy to pay higher fees here compared to other ESF schools.

Read our review of Renaissance College Hong Kong here. For the RCHK experience, click here.

RCHK is one of only six international schools in Hong Kong to offer the full IB programme. What are the benefits of offering the Middle Years Programme (MYP) rather than IGCSEs, which are offered by so many international schools here?

The MYP gives our students the opportunities to learn key subjects through inquiry and explore a personal area of interest. Rather than following a syllabus that culminates in an exam at 15 or 16 years old, our students are exploring and developing a sense of discovery – which prepares them for the IBDP.

The MYP also allows students to discover their own passions; they are not being told by teachers or parents what should be doing. It really helps students to develop a sense of accomplishment and autonomy.

You were the first school in Hong Kong to offer the IB Career Related Programme (IBCP), which is now being introduced at several secondary schools in the ESF group. Why are you giving students the choice of diploma programmes?

The IBCP is a distinguishing feature of RCHK. I’ve always believed that while anyone can do the IBDP, it’s not always the best fit for everyone, particularly those students who are very focused on certain career outcomes such as the arts or digital design.

For the IBCP, we’ve partnered with SCAD and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKPA). At the end of their high school experience, students then get their high school diploma from us, get certificates from the IB for the courses they’ve passed, and they also earn college credits. In this way, the IBCP offers a more personalised learning experience and a more vocational education.

As well as following the framework of the IB programmes, RCHK's roadmap for education is built on what it calls the Bedrock Principles. What key areas of education are you focusing on?

We’re a young school, we’re only 13 years old. When I joined in 2009, the SLT had done a lot of work to distinguish who we are as a Private Independent School and as the newest school in the ESF group. We came up with the Bedrock Principles, which distil this distinction into four areas.

Firstly, our relationship with each other, families and students; we know how valuable this is as greater learning takes place when a relationship exists. Secondly, our commitment to the IB programme and its pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning. Thirdly, we value teaching and learning outside the classroom as much as in the classroom; it’s about more than just the one-off residential camp. And lastly, is our commitment to technology; it’s not just an add-on, it’s truly integrated into everything we do.

On your website, you say that “Wellbeing is at the heart of what we do at RCHK”. How exactly are you building student wellbeing and happiness throughout the school?

There’s a strong focus on wellbeing and Positive Education here. Globally, we spend too much time focusing on students’ weaknesses, and forget about focusing on their strengths and giving positive feedback. I’m more interested in integrating wellbeing than STEAM right now.

Do we focus on our weaknesses and the things we don’t enjoy, or do we focus on our strengths to be a superstar? We should focus on the things we like to do, and then we’ll probably achieve greater success. We all have different strengths, albeit in varying degrees. There comes a time when you need to turn that switch and focus on the things that you’re good at – and I believe that time is in Year 12.

The challenge here in Hong Kong is that many students are good at everything and they could do anything. They have a natural curiosity about everything and their performance level is flatlined at the top. My advice, though, is for them to follow their passions.

RCHK is a large school, both in terms of size and student numbers, and you have separate timetables and buildings for the primary and secondary schools. What are you doing to create a close-knit school community?

The nature of primary and secondary education is very different, which is why we have different timetables, teachers etc, but we’re most definitely an all-through school. And one of the benefits of this is that our students transition seamlessly into our secondary school.

We’ve just had a CIS evaluation and one of the commendations was our strong community spirit. Our first Bedrock Principle focuses on relationships, and we refer to people as part of the RCHK family. A student’s biological family may be on the other side of the world, so it’s important for them to feel like they’re connected here.

RCHK is one of two Private Independent Schools owned by ESF. How does this make you different to other schools in the group?

We’re unique because 80% of our students must have a Hong Kong ID card; we were founded under a government scheme to increase capacity within international schools for local families. Now, however, schools are opening with the reverse requirement that 80% must be expats because of the politics of the days say that we need to create space for expats.

Also, we have a very robust scholarship programme. We’re required by the government to set aside 10% of all fees for a scholarship programme for deserving students. We offer scholarships to 120 students every year to cover full tuition. The majority of our scholars are academic scholars, but we also have scholarships for sport, the visual arts, performing arts, and music.

Another difference is that your tuition fees are higher than other ESF primary and secondary schools. For example, Year 1 costs HKD 118,100 compared to HKD at ESF Bradbury School...

That’s true, but we’ve had to set our fees higher because we don’t get a subsidy from the government, although this is now being phased out for all ESF schools. Our parents have always understood this. I try to offset the higher cost with smaller class sizes in primary; we have 27 in a class whereas ESF schools have 30. It may not sound much until you’re in a class of five-year-olds!

Looking ahead to the future, how can we expect to see RCHK develop and grow?

We want to build on our partnerships with the community in order to harness our students’ energies and passions even further. Currently, we send students to study in China in Year 10; we have partnered with the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union to use a vacant lot next door as a multi-purpose sports space; we have university partnerships; and next month we have students doing two-week internships in the community. It takes a village to raise a child, and it’s so true in this concrete village. The more partnerships we have with the community, the better.

Read our review of Renaissance College Hong Kong here. For the RCHK experience, click here.

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