Tanglin's Transformational Leader: Craig Considine

Three years into his role as CEO of Tanglin Trust School, Craig Considine talks to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com about the lessons learnt from Covid-19, the future of GCSEs, and why an holistic education really matters.
Tanglin's Transformational Leader: Craig Considine
By Carli Allan
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Craig Considine stepped into the role of CEO at Tanglin Trust School in August 2018, taking on the challenge of steering Singapore’s oldest British international school into the future. He inherited the reigns of a school that was already highly regarded, oversubscribed and high-achieving. But there was to be no resting on its laurels…

Three years down the line Craig has heralded several key changes at Tanglin based on a progressive outlook on academics and education, even in the face of adversity. Very much a team player, Craig credits working alongside his “amazing heads of school" to build on the "nuts and bolts of what makes an excellent school".

Formerly Headmaster of Millfield School, a leading co-educational independent school in the UK, Craig brought with him the experience of leading a large day and boarding school with huge sporting achievements.

Born in Australia, the father of five represented his country at the Commonwealth Games in the decathlon and played professional AFL football, pointing to his passion for sport and co-curricular activities. Although his career move from sport to schools may seem unusual, it paved the way for an holistic approach to leadership.

As Craig prepares for the start of the 2021-22 academic year, he talks to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com about how Covid-19 has accelerated changes in education, whether GCSE exams should be scrapped, and what it means to be part of 'Team Tanglin'.

Reflections on Covid-19 and the future of education


As we enter a post-Covid landscape for schools in Singapore – and as you move forward into a new academic year with (hopefully) the easing of restrictions – what lessons should we take from the pandemic?

“It’s been interesting to see the impact of the pandemic and what people feel they have lost. A child can sit in front of a computer and pick up much of the academic syllabus, but what they miss is that emotional intelligence that comes through the exposure to a diverse range of people.

“It’s all about recognising that children can’t sit in a vacuum of academic aspiration without attention to their mental health, and without giving them the knowledge and capacity to develop skills in a whole range of areas that underpin them as human – and which will allow them to be successful as they go forward.

“I think this is part of the narrative now. Hopefully, as we start to pull our community back together, we will be able to give these things a greater focus.”

Despite the disruption and uncertainty that Covid-19 has caused, are there any positives in the way the pandemic has reshaped education globally?

“We do need to try and find that silver lining of the past 18 months.

“The best example of us having to work within bubbles is the change in pedagogy in physical education and sport – and how we have had to bring a very different teaching style to this area. As a former PE teacher, I liked my witches’ hats and cones for drills and running around – but you can’t do that in this world of bubbles.

“I’ve seen my colleagues construct some excellent lessons in skills development in PE and Games. There’s been quite a sea change, and this really plays to the independent learner. The child is stopping and understanding what they are doing. They are looking at how they can change their behaviour to achieve a better outcome. And it’s all been very positive.”

How has Covid-19 been a catalyst for change in how schools use technology?

“We need to work through the whole concept of formative assessment. As research tells us, this is a much stronger predictor of academic achievement than the summative seven As and two Bs, for example. We need people to understand that the richness of feedback is more important than the grades that sit on the page. Schools have had software platforms in place to track and monitor student progress for a long time, but now is the time to bring these to the fore.

“We are also looking at the data that we use to make decisions in the school. How do we survey our school community, how do we propose ideas, gather feedback, and understand how things are working? Students are consumers of education, and we need to understand how they feel. Did they have a good lesson today? Did their teacher do a good job today? These questions have often been pushed into the background.

“We’ve often relied on the feedback from parents, but parents are only getting a filtered view from their child; they’re not the user and they can only interpret what they’ve been told. The child, however, will give you the raw data that is more helpful in so many ways.”

While Covid-19 has brought the discussion of student wellbeing to the fore, wellbeing has long been high on the agenda for Tanglin, which was awarded the Wellbeing Award for Schools (WAS) by the National Children’s Bureau in the UK in 2019. How do you continue to support your students through these challenging times?

“We’ve been talking quite a lot about our Life Skills curriculum. As our students get older and develop a more sophisticated view of the world, Life Skills is less about teaching lessons on sex education, drugs etc. It’s more about getting our students to sit, talk and understand different points of view and perspectives in a university-style tutorial. In any classroom in Singapore, there will be children from a range of different backgrounds who each bring something different to the conversation.

“Rather than just ticking a box, we want every young person to engage in a dialogue and create a collective understanding of the way society is. Understanding a world view isn’t about sitting and telling, it’s about hearing, listening and sharing. The pedagogy here has to change.”

Leading South East Asia’s oldest British international school


As you approach three years as CEO of Tanglin, what would you list as the school’s top three features?

“Tanglin has a deep understanding of the individual child to support their aspirations. We have demonstrated achievement over an extended period of time. And we have lots of smiles and happy children; there can be some very driven environments elsewhere, but no-one’s having any fun.”

From the start, you’ve said that a “broad holistic education is at the heart of Tanglin”. As CEO of a school with more than 2,800 students aged three through to 18 years, how are you working with your heads of school to ensure that students experience this at every stage of their education?

“We’ve trying to drive a much stronger line of ‘Team Tanglin’, of being one school that offers four stages of education (Infants, Junior, Senior and Sixth Form). That’s not just because of Covid. That’s because we’re an international school and some elements of the British curriculum simply don’t work for us.

“For example, we wanted to straddle the point of transition between Key Stages 2 and 3 (Years 6-7). So, we have changed the syllabus to bring the important collaboration that needs to go on between the Junior and Senior Schools together under one curriculum. On the back of that, we’re now looking at assessment and reporting to help give us a better picture of a child’s progress as they move through the school.

“We have also formed new whole-school committees with representatives from academic, co-curricular and pastoral areas of the school. The curriculum is not just about the academic, but also the co-curricular and pastoral experiences of the children. We want to scaffold each stage of their development so that we can say, we know what they’ve learnt, we know where they’re going, and this is how we’re challenging and extending every child at the next stage.

“This isn’t rocket science, it’s recognition that there are points of transition that are not aligned with such a linear curriculum.”

Tanglin has a strong sporting culture and, in 2022, you will open a new building including a 50m swimming pool, physio and fitness facilities, and gymnastics centre. As a former professional footballer, PE teacher, and head of one of the UK’s sportiest schools, sport must be close to your heart. But why should sport be an integral part of any child’s education?

“Sport creates so many opportunities, and I expect every student to leave Tanglin with a healthy attitude towards physical activity.

“I often use sport and aspects of our co-curriculum as a way of future-proofing our young people. I refer to the three-legged tripod of sustaining a young person with an academic, a pastoral and a co-curricula that really shows there is a balance in their lives; as soon as the balance is lost in one of those areas, it falls over. Too much academic, not enough sport, not looking after your mental health; one of those things will lead to you teetering or fall over. You’ve got to maintain those things.

“You don’t get better results just by doing more maths; you get it by achieving a balance in your life and being a better human being. For some people that involves playing sport, for others it is more about doing some form of physical activity.

“Camaraderie and connectedness are important lessons to learn from sport, and I want students to take these values with them when they leave school. In Singapore, where the focus can be on academics in senior school, children can miss out on the joy of being part of a team or the discipline of playing an individual sport. Our mantra is to be your personal best, it’s about overcoming challenges and being the best you can be.”

Tanglin is the oldest British international school in South East Asia and you’re fast approaching 100 years. What do you see as being the biggest changes facing the school in the next 20 years?

“The nuts and bolts of what make an excellent school are in existence at Tanglin, but there are other areas where we can still expand. We can still do more. And that will be the hallmark of our school.

“The world has changed, and we have to evolve. The next phase for us is about re-engaging with our community; this will be a focus for us over the next two years. It’s important to connect with the Singapore eco-system as schools can often operate in bubbles. We need to understand the changing demographic of Singapore when looking at how the school positions itself: the number of expats is changing, the number of PRs is increasing, and more people are here for the longer haul, rather than in for three years and out again.

“There are other questions we need to look at. Do we need more specialised support around mental health? Does this mean bringing in psychologists who are more in tune with working with young people?

“How do we make ourselves relevant in the corporate world? Do we need more people who can bridge those gaps to the opportunities that we want to give to our students?

“Technology is a great enabler. Do we need to become savvier in our use of that technology and align it more closely with business skills?

Exams and the future of assessment

Tanglin Trust exams

Despite the upheaval of Covid-19, the IB's dual route option of exam or non-examined assessments saw a rise in pass rates, average scores, and top scorers. In Singapore, the majority of IB schools were able to administer the exams, and Tanglin celebrated a high average score of 40.7 (compared to 39.1 last year). What is your view on this ‘exceptional year’ for the IB?

“In Singapore, we didn’t lose any teaching right up until the IB exams started; the students were pretty much in school, and it was fairly stable. Yes, they had to wear masks and work in bubbles, but we didn’t lose any time in the classroom. In Hong Kong, the number of perfect scores was up considerably as well but they had a very disruptive year. So, was the disruption the issue – or was it the slight change in IB syllabus?

“Are the grades a bit inflated? Yes. However, schools have tended to hold their place in the pecking order. Grades may have gone up a little bit and they may come down a little bit over the next couple of years. That’s to be expected.

“The IB has a much stronger system in place for gathering data from schools in the lead-up to exams than the algorithm used in the UK last year, which looked at historical performance and data compared to the previous year’s outcomes. That didn’t work at all! The IB has a stronger handle on that data, which is pulled from so many places around the world; it’s quite an exercise to marry it up.

“We are very pleased with our results at Tanglin. A lot of children were well rewarded for working very hard. Our results have gone up a little bit over time, but they tend to stay in the 37-38 range. We’re not a hyper selective school but our students do well because they work hard, and they know what’s required to achieve good grades.”

A major consultation into the future of exams is underway in the UK amid calls for the end to GCSEs. As CEO of a school that offers both I/GCSEs and A Levels, what changes would you like to see in the National Curriculum for England? Will we still have I/GCSE qualifications in 10 years’ time?

“Since working in England, I’ve always thought that GCSEs are a little bit of an anachronism; they are a throwback to a qualification for people coming out of school and going into work. We all know that time has moved on and that’s not what they’re really for at all now. However, they do offer a benchmark for young people as they move through school, so they still serve a function.

“I think we’ll see schools developing their own GCSEs, as we’re seeing at schools such as Bedales in England. Schools will create courses of study that are relevant for their students and have them validated by universities. We may also see a micro-credentialling approach; for example, a 15-year-old with an interest in coding could do an industry-standard course in that area.

“We talk a lot about personalisation in education. The way we can achieve that has changed as technology has become so ubiquitous. Personalised education starts to take on some sort of voracity. Previously, we couldn’t have done it. Today, however, you could have a supervised class of 15 students all studying something different online in one room.

“I think we’ve just touched the tip of this iceberg. It’s now about teachers and schools feeling comfortable with that flexibility rather than feeling they need to teach all students in one classroom.”

Elsewhere in Singapore, Dover Court has added BTECs to its Sixth Form curriculum, and XCL Academy offers the IB Career-related Programme. While Tanglin is the only school in Singapore to currently offer the choice of A Levels or the IBDP, would you consider introducing any vocational qualifications?

“Tanglin has certainly considered this. It’s very expensive to run additional qualifications, though, so to add the IBCP could be a step too far. We prefer to focus on how we augment what students are learning in the IB and A Levels with a range of other things.

“For example, we are part of the Young Leader Summit, which brings together students from local schools, including Raffles and ACS, as well as Tanglin, Dulwich and UWCSEA to tackle the most pressing challenges of today. Working with The Bridge Institute, it offers our students opportunities to work with industry leaders and CEOs to support the Singapore Green Plan by creating solutions to real world sustainability issues.

“It’s really important to have these partnerships. Rather than just being the ‘Tanglin bubble’, we want to learn from and be part of the local community. That’s a big focus for us as we go forward.”

Leading and learning from personal experience


What memories from your own school days have influenced your outlook on what makes a great school for children today?

“My education was very holistic, which has influenced the changes I’ve set in place at Tanglin. I want all young people to have the opportunity and experience to engage and interact with each other using different vehicles.

“There are parts of the co-curriculum that should not be on the periphery as they really drive a young person’s sense of who they are. We need to find out what that is for every young person and help them unlock the way forward in different ways. That’s what I experienced as a young person, and I’d love to think that that’s what we’re providing for everyone at Tanglin.”

And finally… if you could go back to school today, what subjects would you choose to study?

“I studied English, English Literature, Economics, Geography and Biology but, if I could choose today, I would study Design Technology.

“It’s fantastic what to see what is being taught in DT in our classrooms today; it’s not just the DT skills that students are learning, it’s the design learning mindset which is core to business life these days.”

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