The Harbour School: Meet The Head

WhichSchoolAdvisor meets with Dr Jadis Blurton, the founder and principal of The Harbour School, which has established itself as one of Hong Kong's most alternative – and innovative – international schools.
The Harbour School: Meet The Head
By Carli Allan
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The Harbour School offers an alternative to the many mainstream international schools in Hong Kong, with a progressive, almost bespoke approach to education. At the helm is Dr Jadis Blurton, arguably the perfect fit for a school that needs a mix of energy, passion and experience to continually test new ideas, develop a creative approach to education, and build true inclusivity, something that is much easier to promise than to deliver.

A child psychologist and a former Montessori teacher, Blurton is the founder and principal of THS’ three campuses – The Grove primary school, The Garden secondary school, and Harbour Village pre-school. During a tour of the Grove and Garden campuses in Ap Lei Chau, spoke to Blurton about how and why she has built up a family of schools that do their best to break from convention.

Far from a typical school visit, we found ourselves visiting the school's marine centre, going down the slide in the library, and exploring a treehouse. Most importantly however, we experienced Blurton's passion for hands-on, personalised learning, which shines through in every corner of the Harbour campuses. 

Read the Grove campus and the Garden campus reviews.

What has inspired you to lead one of Hong Kong’s most progressive and alternative international schools?

I started my first school for the neighbourhood kids, The Two Horseshoe School, when I was seven years old. I’ve always been passionate about alternative approaches to education. I have six children myself, and I’ve faced my own trials of trying to find schools that would inspire each of them. I’ve also worked with many families and teachers as child psychologist, so I know first-hand how important it is to find the right education for every child.

The Harbour School welcomes gifted children, ‘typical’ children and children with special needs. With such a diverse student body, are you a school for all?

It’s a school for families. As mentioned before I have six children, and somebody once said that you will try to make a school that they can all attend – and that’s really true! They all have different strengths and weaknesses, and we appreciate all different types of gifts here. I’m not just talking about academic talents, but gifts such as kindness as well.

Our goal at THS is to unlock the best in every child, and we supersaturate to achieve this. We have one teacher for every nine students in The Grove, which allows the teacher to learn what every child is good at and what they struggle with – and you just can’t do that if you have one teacher and 30 children.

I don’t want to say that we offer personalised learning as its not 1:1, but we do bring a very customised approach to learning for every individual.

THS describes its curriculum as “student-centric”. How does this differ to teaching at more mainstream schools in Hong Kong?

We’re accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and we follow the US curriculum – but with a very bespoke approach. That’s partly because we’re international, partly because we’re inclusive, and partly because we believe very strongly in flexible best practice. We don’t believe that everything should be hands-on, or discussion and debate, or lectured, or online. Instead, we want to choose the best method for whatever it is we’re teaching.

Why do you have such a strong focus social studies and science in your middle school curriculum?

In Grades 1-6, students take one social studies and one science course per term, and they end up studying the entire history of mankind. Why do we do this? Well, there are lots of individual facts about the 21st century that can be simply looked up online, but what’s more important is being able to interpret these facts and put them into context.

The two most important things to learn are knowing your place in time and space, which is history and social studies, and knowing how to ask a question and present your data, which is science. At the end of each term, students get a patch to show that they have completed that course.

In Grades 7-8 we run the Decisions, Decisions programme, which allows students to choose one social studies and one science class every term. This term, they chose mapping the world and UK law and ethics for social studies, and forensics and marine biology for science.

What does the school feel like? Get the The Grove campus Experience here!

How are you redefining the secondary schooling experience at your new Garden campus?

Our high school curriculum is student-centred and gives them the opportunity to curate their own academic programme to meet their future college and career goals. For example, we will offer a food chemistry class next year because there is the demand for it. We’re also teaching courses on social media and marketing and Hong Kong law and history. The students are really shaping the course catalogue.

A formal classroom is not the only place for students to develop the ability to self-regulate, develop more resilience, and more understanding. We’ve created an additional learning environment that gives them room to grow, called the Independent Study Module (ISM).

These can be as varied as building a boat for sailing round the world to writing and performing original music, and they range from one term to year-long projects. It’s all very structured and serious, but we give students the freedom to explore something they are interested in and passionate about.

In the past 10 years, the Harbour School has grown to three campuses with more than 280 students. As an educator who was looking to address gaps in the system, are you happy with what you’ve achieved so far?

Yes…and no! I feel that we’re in a good place as we have a joyful school with happy teachers, students and parents. However, we always need to be ready to change and we can’t be static. Should we be using Virtual Reality more, for example? These are the type of questions that we need to keep asking, and we why we need to stay as flexible as possible.

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