St Andrews International School Bangkok is a school of two halves – a primary campus in Sukhmvit and a new secondary campus in Srivikorn. Head of school Paul Schofield joined St Andrews in 2002 as a maths teacher, when the school had just one campus and a total of 11 children.
Mr Schofield talks to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com about how this Nord Anglia school is moving with the times, and, after nearly 15 years at the helm of this popular British school, how it focuses on every student’s “individual style of learning”.
Read our review of St Andrews here.
St Andrews has grown rapidly over the past 15 years to around 1,600 students. What defines St Andrews and makes you stand out from the rest?
We’ve created a whole school community that supports children every level. We have a talented community that gives children, teachers and parents the opportunity to really understand each other.
The real world isn’t selective, and you need to empathise with people with different needs. If children can learn that from working with different children, who may have learning difficulties and learn in different ways, it makes you stronger as an adult and future leader.
We want young people to access the curriculum and develop their individual style of learning so that they can reach their full potential socially, emotionally and academically. We’ve always had an open access school, and we’re not selecting the better students on entry. It does mean that it’s harder to plan but, with the right teachers in place, we’re creating an environment where children can really develop themselves as individuals with high self-esteem, self-confidence and support for others. If we get that right and the children are happy, then academically they will fly. We’ve really worked hard at that.
Even within our large year groups, we can deal with the individual child as we have the therapists and support system in place. We have play therapists, art therapists, counsellors, as well as a strong pastoral system. We’re always looking out for those students who are struggling.
How does St Andrews benefit from being a Nord Anglia school?
There is a diverse group of schools within the group - it allows that. We have been allowed to grow and develop in a distinct way, and to put in lots of investment to improve the quality of education. That’s a cornerstone of why Nord Anglia runs successful schools.
The MIT and Juilliard programmes, the annual trips to Tanzania, the links through the Global Campus – these have all been great additions to the school. Nord Anglia as a group gives us a lot of support and has allowed us to become the school we are now. It has allowed us to grow as we wish. We have not had to change to fit in with a certain model.
Why did you decide to split the campus and move the secondary school to this new location?
We were bursting at the seams with 1,250 students at the Sukhimvit campus and, although it was a great atmosphere, there were times when there was just too much going on. We did look at how to expand that campus, but it made more sense to move the high school instead. While we wanted to give our new high school campus its own identity, we also wanted to bring the culture of St Andrews with us.
When the high school was still very small, for example, the primary students in Years 6 and 7 took on all the leadership roles. When the high school grew to 600, the secondary students dominated the assemblies and leadership positions. Now that we’re split, those young leaders in primary school have the opportunity to lead again.
You have a growing reputation for your SEN programme at primary level. How will you roll this out into secondary school?
We’ve recently started the high needs programme in primary, and we currently have 14 children with severe needs. We’re going to roll that out into high school, and offer BTEC and vocational training, off-site work placements for children who may find it very challenging in a workplace. Every parent wants their child to be an independent adult. We can match their strengths and develop their weaknesses – and that’s what makes us a strong school.
You have a large student body of 1,600 split across two campuses. How do you manage to retain that close-knit community that St Andrews is so well-known for?
We actively encourage the parents to be ‘part’ of the school. At certain times, parents can use the fitness centre, swim in the pool, have coffee in the cafe, and join in as much as possible. Obviously, we don’t want them staring through classroom windows all day though! We want them to enjoy the facilities as much as the kids, and this contributes to having a very strong community.
As we grow, we want to keep that feeling of a small school. So, we keep class sizes as small as possible, and tutor groups often stay the same each year so the teachers know the student. Our senior management team has been together for around 15 years now, so we have a lot of staff here that understand our school culture. That’s a huge strength.
What does education need to focus on in the future?
We talk too much about changes in technology; instead what will always be required is for people to make and build human relationships. We need to interact with other people, and schools are the right environment for that. We need to look at those soft skills – to be happy, to be strong, to face problems – and that requires having the right people around you. That’s important for schools going forward, regardless of technology. With iPads and smartphones, for example, we need to put them away and talk instead.
What key experiences have you learnt from as founding head of Patana for 10 years and now head of school at St Andrews?
When I joined St Andrews in 2003, we had just 11 students, and I was teaching Year 8 with just four students. I really enjoyed it and I was happy, and it made me realise when I later became head that I want a happy school. If you have happy teachers, then you’ll have happy children.
It’s so important for us to be collaborative and inclusive because that’s when the community flourishes.