'A Rich Curriculum For The Ambitious' - Wycombe

Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong’s founding headmaster, Howard Tuckett, explains why there’s a need to bring this iconic brand of British education to Hong Kong.
'A Rich Curriculum For The Ambitious' - Wycombe
By Carli Allan
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There’s growing number of international schools offering a very 'British' education in Hong Kong, from the Harrow boaters to the houses of Malvern College. The opening of Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong in September 2019 adds to the list. This primary school will open in the Southern District's Tin Wan, bringing with it the look and feel of another traditional British school that has a reputation for academic excellence, discipline, pastoral care and an emphasis on extra-curricular activities.

WhichSchoolAdvisor.com speaks to founding headmaster Howard Tuckett about how Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong is adapting to the local market while offering the very best of British.

Read our review of Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong here.

Founding headmaster Howard Tuckett

As Hong Kong’s newest international school, you will be competing against other British schools including new campuses such as Malvern College and the very well-established Kellett School. What makes Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong unique?

We are very proud to be able to offer Hong Kong parents and pupils such an iconic British independent school for their consideration. Our first specific characteristic is that we are licenced as a private school. As such, we are not an international school, limited by any quota of nationalities or passports. We are an outstanding private school available to all Hong Kong children who are able to pass the entry assessment.

Our second unique characteristic is our curriculum. We are a Common Entrance curriculum primary school. We prepare children specifically for entry to the British independent GCSE and A Level system.

You describe the curriculum as combining the “best in the British and Hong Kong primary education systems”. Which features of each system can we expect to see at Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong?

Having studied the EDB Primary Curriculum, the British National Curriculum and the ISEB Common Entrance Curriculum requirements in detail, I am very excited by the dynamic combined curriculum we have created for our Hong Kong pupils. Each of these primary curricula offer a rich primary education. By drawing together the academically most rigorous and culturally relevant aspects of these various curricula, we have created a primary curriculum that is geared specifically for the most ambitious children of Hong Kong and for their role in their adult lives.

How does Mandarin feature in the Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong curriculum?

The main medium of instruction at the school is English. We will be teaching Putonghua with simplified characters in our Chinese lessons. Chinese lessons receive the same time allocation on the timetable as each of English and maths. We have decided on the Putonghua/simplified characters option as this is the main language of business across China. However, we recognise that our school is situated in Hong Kong. As such, we will be offering various cultural options such as traditional characters and calligraphy as part of our ECA programme for those parents who wish to offer their children a fully balanced Chinese cultural education.

As well as delivering a strong academic curriculum, how will you focus on sport and the arts at Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong?

Our school houses two large, dedicated art studios. Our head of art has already been appointed from Britain and will be joining us in the next few weeks. As with all other subjects, we offer a specifically designed art and design curriculum blended from the best and most challenging aspects of the EDB Primary Curriculum, British National Curriculum and the ISEB Common Entrance Curriculum. In my planning, art will be one of the discrete subjects that will feed into our STEAM teaching. The ‘A’ in STEAM represents either ‘Arts’ or ‘Aesthetic’.

Likewise, our South-African trained head of sport has also already been appointed and is busy booking up facilities in the local area for our children to use. Although we have plenty of open-floor space in our building we do not have any outdoor sports areas of our own, thus we will be leasing various local facilities for our pupils. Our indoor provision includes a marked basketball playing space and a three-storey climbing wall, as well as plenty of open floor-space for dance and martial arts activities.

What teaching practices and traditions of Wycombe Abbey in the UK can we expect to see at the Hong Kong campus?

Wycombe Abbey in Britain is a full-boarding, senior school for girls. Our primary school site in Tin Wan is a daytime primary school for boys and girls. The two models are not immediately compatible in terms of transferring daily practice or traditions. However, we do share a common commitment to excellence in teaching and learning. The Wycombe Abbey Board undertake educational audits of their Wycombe Abbey schools in mainland China and Hong Kong. Thus, parents can be confident that whilst the structure of the Hong Kong school is different to the British school, the adherence to educational excellence is consistent.

Wycombe Abbey International School, Changzhou opened in 2016, and it will open a second campus in China in 2020. What are the benefits of belonging to a global network of schools?

Our first school in Changzhou has been in operation for several years. It is a different model to our Hong Kong school in that it is a three to 18 years, co-educational school, sited on a massive outdoor campus, which includes a rowing lake and a large boarding facility. However, as with our parent school in Britain, the transfer of educational excellence from our first school in China to our first school in Hong Kong is of real assistance in starting up our school here.

It is very helpful to us on the team and reassuring to parents to know that Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong is part of a large group of schools and is not a single project. We have the security and expertise of a large education group behind our success.

While Wycombe Abbey may be a British school, are you expecting to attract a very international student body?

As we are licensed as a private school in Hong Kong and an international school, we expect our developing student body to represent the breadth of the dynamic demographic of Hong Kong by the time the school reaches capacity. Our private school is open to all Hong Kong children, regardless of which passport or nationality they hold.

Is there a selective admissions process?

Yes, all students who apply to the school are invited to an initial assessment session when a place is available. All decisions regarding entry are based on each student’s performance during this assessment procedure.

What facilities can we expect to see at your campus on Hong Kong Island?

The Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong offers state-of-the-art classrooms, two dedicated art studios and two STEAM rooms, one of which is a technical centre, the other a workshop. We also have two science rooms, two music teaching rooms, five 1-1 music tuition rooms and two drama studios, a spacious school hall, a dining room which can double as open floor-space during the teaching day, and a large and a fully provisioned library. All of these facilities are housed in a newly restructured building, which is full of light, space, colour and stimulating learning areas.

What do you bring to the school as the founding headmaster?

My career has been in primary education, across many different schools and three different countries (with Hong Kong in China, that makes four). I have been a headmaster of British independent prep schools for the last 20 years and I was a deputy head at another UK independent prep school before that. I am an experienced school governor of two British independent schools. I have been an ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate) team inspector for the last 10 years and I have served the UK Independent Prep Schools Association (IAPS) in several roles over the last decade, including training other Heads.

Where are you recruiting teachers from? And will there be specialist teachers for all year groups?

Most of our teachers are UK-trained. Some may come from similar education systems, such as South Africa, Australia or New Zealand. All of our Chinese language classes are taught by subject specialists, and our deputy head is an expert manager of Chinese teaching and an outstanding teacher of Chinese language herself. As the school grows and our Year 5 and 6 classes develop, they will have all of their subjects taught by subject specialists.

What do you expect the main challenges of founding a new school here in Hong Kong will be?

What a wonderful adventure this project is! The challenges are myriad. Almost every discussion and item in my working day comprises a challenge of some sort. Personally, I am loving the creativity and the opportunity to create a brand-new school from scratch. One minute I am deep in a discussion about the layout of classrooms, the next I am picking out the correct shade of blue for a sports shirt and next I am deep into a discussion about selecting books for our brand-new library.

As teachers we become expert, throughout our careers, at making do with what we have to work with. The beauty of this project is that I am constantly being asked what I would like to have and where I would like it to go. How creative, how liberating! The challenges in constructing an outstanding school are enormous, however, the rewards are spectacular.

Wycombe Abbey School has some of the highest tuition fees in Hong Kong. How can you justify the cost of an education here to parents?

Providing an outstanding private primary school such as Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong requires a significant investment. We are not significantly priced above other private school providers. Our fees are based on meeting the costs of providing an outstanding private education for the primary aged children of Hong Kong. The many parents who are registering their children for entry assessment appear to agree.

Are there plans to expand into an all-through school in the future?

Yes, plans to found a Wycombe Abbey secondary school in Hong Kong are currently at an advanced stage of discussion. We expect to be making firm statements on this exciting development in the near future.

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