Nord Anglia CEO Interview: Being Ambitious

'Be ambitious' is a phrase you will see on any visit to a Nord Anglia school, including Dover Court International School. The school group itself appears to be living up to its own challenge as it continues to expand with new schools around the world.
Nord Anglia CEO Interview: Being Ambitious
By Carli Allan
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Andrew Fitzmaurice has been Chief Executive Officer of Nord Anglia Education for more than 15 years.  During that time he has overseen the phenomenal growth of the school group across the globe, including the Dover Court campus in Singapore.

WhichSchoolAdvisor caught up with Andrew on his recent visit to Nord Anglia International School Dubai to ask how the group is doing what competitors have so far found difficult to replicate. 

There are now 61 schools within the Nord Anglia group internationally, from Brazil, through North America, across the Middle East and into Southeast Asia. You’ve just acquired a school group in India, Nord Anglia’s first foray into this market and you seem to have a strong global acquisition plan. What are your plans for the immediate future? 

We’re currently focusing on three main areas which are adding capacity to existing schools, acquisition and new builds, the majority of which are taking place in China.  India is a significant development for us as we’ve just acquired four schools with more than 7,000 pupils.  We have four new schools opening in China in September.  We’re also adding significant capacity to our existing schools. We would typically add about 6,000 seats to our group of schools just so we can continue to have space for the people who want to attend Nord Anglia schools. Sometimes that’s through an extension like here in Dubai and at other times it’s building a new facility where we have an existing school. 

You’re operating in a very diverse set of markets across the globe is there a ‘Nord Anglia Way’ that applies across all of these markets?  

What we’ve found is doing fewer things well makes us more successful. When I started with Nord Anglia in 2003 we were an education outsourcing company where we were running contracts for the government, here in the Gulf and Malaysia but mainly in the UK. When we then started to concentrate on schools we seemed to enjoy more and more success. Sticking to that focus of adding value with our own schools, in a family of schools, is where we see continued success going forward.  

The key question for me is ‘how does every stakeholder within Nord Anglia benefit from our growth’.  By growing by 7,000 seats in India how does Sheila in Year 6 in Dubai benefit from that?  How is John the teacher in Chicago going to benefit from that because otherwise it’s growth for growth’s sake. 

In education if it doesn’t work for all the stakeholders it doesn’t work.  We need to show in tangible ways to our parents, students and teachers that the growth is bringing benefits to them.  

Is that benefit felt through the partnerships with Julliard and MIT? You have scale which means you can negotiate with these organisations? Or is it more that schools are working with each other?

It is both of those things. As we’ve grown we’ve developed an attraction as a route to the international K12 market. Because the school sector is so fragmented it’s very difficult for an entity like MIT or Julliard which wants to gain access to K12 around the world to do that. Nord Anglia solves that problem for them. As we continue to grow it gives them an increasing access to that area. So within MIT for example they run an education challenge for all of the schools in every term. We currently have five people employed full-time within MIT who are dedicated to working exclusively with Nord Anglia. That is a phenomenal benefit. 

Also just by being a collaborative family we have advantages. There’s a lot of talk about 21st century skills and a key aspect of that is the ability to collaborate with individuals across cultures. At Nord Anglia we offer students the ability to work with their peers not just in their own schools but across our global network of 61 schools.  This is, I believe, a distinct offering. 

In Dubai we have 40 different nationalities and there’s a cultural dividend to that. But also being able to work on a challenge with students in Bangalore, Boston and in Beijing you’re also accessing different cultures within their own environment. I do believe that that’s an excellent opportunity for our students which is going to give them a real opportunity once they’ve moved on from Nord Anglia. This is certainly evident from the communication we receive from many of our Alumni who continue to stay in touch with us. 

What additional benefits do your stakeholders enjoy being part of an international school group? 

AF: As a larger organization we can also develop programmes such as the International Masters in Education which we’ve set up with King’s College, London. Some 50 Nord Anglia staff go on that programme every year and we’ve signed up to that programme for five years. Having scale makes that easier being able to sign up 50 people who have the interest and aptitude to take on the Masters. 

You have an excellent view of parents and what they expect from education for their children across the world.  Have you noticed any major differences in expectations across countries or regions? 

There’s a phrase we use which is ‘every parent wants the best for their child and so do we’. That’s universal I believe. But ‘the best’ means different things to different people and different things for different children. There are almost an infinite variety of expectations for children. For us it’s important to be reflective and open to what parents want. Schools are all about emotion. Because of that the way in which parents think about the school is in an emotional way and schools need to reflect that understanding. This isn’t an interaction like any other. 

So what we try to do with our educational model is to leave the local school to determine what’s best for the local community.  We don’t even specify, for instance, what the curriculum should be. That’s up to them. The other vital element is to make sure that whatever the leadership team decides to do, they own that decision. This represents an interesting challenge for us as Nord Anglia Education. How we’ve answered that challenge is to ask a further question which is ‘how do we add value’? 

There is a natural tension between the autonomy of the local team and the fact that they’re part of a global group.  What I’ve found over the years is that if you take a genuinely ethical approach to that, people buy in to our proposition.  So, for instance, what I’ll find is that people in individual schools begin to see the advantage of the scale and reach that we offer and start questioning me as to how they can take advantage of that for their particular school.

One of the key questions that we consistently face from parents across WhichSchoolAdvisor is which curriculum is the best for my child. What are your thoughts on the variety of curricula that are available to them? 

There are significant differences in assessment according to specific curricula. There are also political, economic and social aspects to curricula as well as the academic. We work across a wide variety of curricula and as I’ve said we leave the specific curriculum choice to the local team.  We do, however, have a very strong quality assurance framework in place. This is primarily about holding a mirror up to the school and  saying ‘you’ve made that choice because you believe these would be the outcomes, let us look at how well these outcomes have been realised’. 

Any final thoughts you would like to share with parents and educationalists?

Yes, although it varies widely according to different societies I believe that teachers aren’t valued enough pretty much anywhere. Teachers are the people who have the greatest influence on how your child performs throughout their education. There are studies that tell us that if you have a great teacher when you’re six that has a massive difference on your earnings when you get to 30 years of age.  We’ve really got to make sure as a sector that we love these people because they’re so important in making sure that we’re successful. 

At Nord Anglia we look to provide excellent opportunities for professional development and collaboration.  We’re also very strong on promotion from within.  It’s expected with the medical profession that they keep up to date with the latest developments and that’s equally vital in teaching. It’s also what teachers really love. 

They are professionals and they want to do the best possible job for the students in their care. The more that we can do as societies to appreciate that and to make sure that it happens the better opportunities we’ll present to our young people.  

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