This is the last Week Ahead of the 2019-2020 academic year and I wish to thank all our parents, pupils and staff for their commitment, hard work, support and flexibility during this unusual year. Whilst this last week has been extremely busy, I have decided not to reflect on that myself in today’s Week Ahead – as there has been enough communication on this already over the last few days. Instead, if you would like to read my End of Year Letter, please do carry on reading below.
I wish everyone a wonderful summer and look forward to seeing you all towards the end of August for our new academic year.
Executive Master’s End of Year Letter
Dear Parents and followers of Wellington College Hangzhou,
Instead of sending my normal Week Ahead, I am substituting it with an ‘End of Year Letter’, an idea I did rather purloin from the Master of Wellington College Tianjin – although I assure all of our many readers that he has formerly reassured me that he is happy for me to follow his excellent lead here.
In many ways it is a little difficult to look back at this particular year and pick out specific highlights without seeing past COVID-19, something that has influenced us all so much since February, a full five months ago now. This has been an academic year transformed like no other, and over such a long and sustained period of time. A time that has become characterised by the resilience and flexibility of all involved within and without the school.
I might note that I, like some other academic staff, have been involved in school closures before, in various countries around the world. In my case as a result of either snow, sand storms, typhoons, earthquakes, a hurricane (and that was in the UK!), a tsunami and even radioactive fallout (as a result of the great 2011 Fukushima earthquake and subsequent meltdown of Fukushima Nuclear Reactor) – but never before as a result of something so pervasive, so long term and without (even now) a clear direction or ‘end in sight’.
As we all knew it would, the pandemic has without doubt brought the school community and all those colleges within the Wellington College China and the Wellington College Group more closely together. It has emphasized our strong organisation and celebrated our ability to at all times move quickly in the right direction as a group. It has highlighted our strong focus on the pupils as well as underlined our long-term vision and the strong support that we all provide for each other within our group of schools. And it has emphasised the commitment and dedication of the most important resource we have in our schools – the staff. Our human resource.
For our teaching staff, at the beginning of this year, never for one moment would they have envisioned that they may be stuck outside of China and unable to return when they wanted, teaching via a computer screen at odd hours of the day or night, away from family during this traumatic time and unsure of when things would get back to any sense of normality. Our pupils did not know that they would not be able to return to school after breaking up on 17th January for well over 3 months and as a consequence not see their friends or have any meaningful social interaction with them for such a long period of time. Their parents were not conscious that they would become worker, parent and at times even a part time teacher for all of that time. None of us appreciated any of this – but as a group of school stakeholders we coped with these uncertainties together and came through as a far stronger community as a consequence! If that is not the clear highpoint of the year, then I am not sure what is.
In doing our best to replicate our unique approach to holistic education, a wide range of additional resources and services were utilised out to make the delivery of eLearning not just a temporary solution to a problem, but a robust, enjoyable and rigorous educational provision that ensured our pupils continued to thrive throughout this challenging time. In such a short time, we achieved the seemingly impossible; moving the entire curriculum to a smooth, online delivery that maintained face to face contact (at least from a screen) and enabled pupils to progress well educationally, but something which also provided for their social and emotional growth as they navigated this difficult time with their parents.
Our parents also responded in a truly impressive manner; ensuring that their children were able to access IT, highlighting issues where necessary and enabling the staff team to provide the best quality eLearning platform for their children. All of this was handled admirably by our parents whilst they juggled their own work commitments and demands.
Leaving aside the Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent consequences, what other highlights have there been for the schools? Whilst we could talk about our facilities, assessment results, the excellent progress our pupils have made this academic year, the events we have been able to put on, the wide ranging Co-Curricular Activities (CCAs) that have delighted us all as well as developing resources and making improvements in so many other areas as well – for me what comes first is always the staff we hire who are the key to our progress and who are the people driving this on a daily basis. As always, our focus for this academic year has been on hiring the very best academic and non-academic staff as well as our commitment to supplementing our schools with additional senior leadership during this period. Staff and leaders who follow our Wellington/Huili values, are committed to ensuring our schools become the very best they can be and who have the skills and experience to drive their departments not only in the short term, but over the next few years as well.
In terms of those key academic staff, our new Wellington College International Hangzhou (WCIH) Principal Ms. Richardson has shone since her arrival in August 2019 and helped drive the school forward at a phenomenal rate whilst at the same time influencing much more across Huili Nursery Hangzhou (HNH) and Huili School Hangzhou (HSH). It has been wonderful to see the WCIH staff flourish under her strong leadership; and because of this and so much more besides, our pupil enrolment for August 2020 continues to rise at a very reassuring rate. She has been ably assisted by our incoming Deputy Head Senior for WCIH, Mr Philip Stainton who has just about managed to match Ms. Richardson in terms of drive and commitment, and it is true to say that the two have made a formidable team over the past few months.
In HSH, our Principal Ms. Xin has completed her first full academic year in Huili School Hangzhou and had an extremely important influence on the whole pastoral support programme we deliver and which we hold to be so very important. Whether this is via English or Chinese Support, our counselling or wellbeing programmes, or support for those pupils who have specific educational needs. She has been ably assisted by our incoming Head of Primary, Mr. Barlow who I know has impressed parents greatly since his arrival last January with his focus on putting the pupils first and his energy and commitment to the job at hand. And staffing continues to grow in strength for next academic year as we welcome Ms. Perry as our new Head of JH, whilst Mr. Shen becomes our first Deputy Head Liaison – a key role within the school as we grow in size in the years to come.
And in Huili Nursery Hangzhou we have benefited immensely from the appointments of our new Deputy Head of EYs, Ms. Zhou as well as our new Head of EYs, Mr. Botha. As a strong team they have dedicated themselves totally to ensuring that every decision they make is geared towards the very best learning environment they can provide for our special nursery pupils. Once more, I can see the huge respect and admiration from parents and teaching staff for their leadership within the Early Years.
With all of these relatively new staff contributing so much to the college as a whole, I can be nothing but reassured that we are in a very strong position to continue to move forward in the right direction and at the right pace to continue on our journey to becoming the very best schools in Hangzhou, Zhejiang and beyond.
What other highlights might I mention from this past year? Of course, our boarding program has to be mentioned. Once more we have received widespread accolades from accreditation groups as well as influential visitors to the school during this past academic year. It remains a key feature of our schools and has maintained its excellent high standards of quality during this period almost doubling in size since July 2019.
I would also mention our Council of British International School’s (COBIS) visit back in September 2019. HSH was the first ever bilingual school to go through accreditation with COBIS and as such, the many criteria we had to match or surpass were complex and of an extremely high standard.
After three days of intense inspection, Huili School Hangzhou was awarded Patron Accreditation Status, the first bilingual school to be incorporated within the COBIS family. Meanwhile, we were granted Blue Riband Status for our outstanding ethos and values, Co-Curricular Activities programme (CCAs) and boarding, which means that COBIS would recommend other schools to take note of the quality we offer in these particular areas. With COBIS accreditation, Huili teachers can attend various training sessions run by COBIS, and Huili pupils are permitted to participate in a host of school competitions.
Most importantly, it raises Huili School Hangzhou’s profile and recognition around the world, making our Huili graduates more competitive in university applications. It is a wonderful aid for our school to become an even more prestigious school in China, and indeed the world. In addition we were delighted to learn that our Director of CCAs was granted COBIS Peer Accreditor status this past week which means he would be involved in future COBIS visits to other schools and as a result be in the position to share new ideas and bring back new initiatives to Huili School Hangzhou in the future.
Regarding our School Activities programme which is incorporated as part of our CCAs, this also grew in leaps and bounds during the year. Prior to the eLearning period we were offering 210 school activities each week, increasing from 35 per day to more than 70. The programme was greatly enhanced with the inclusion of many offsite activities such as ice hockey, archery, sailing and kayaking. We also engaged with a range of external vendors on campus to offer activities such as tennis and golf, complementing this already rich and vibrant programme. The variety of opportunities the pupils were able to experience was wonderful, and being able to choose from academic, creative, physical and performing art activities meant children could try new experiences and then choose to focus on the ones that truly excited and inspired them.
And one last success I could mention during this past year – Dukebox. What other schools have their own dedicated radio station which runs live in China and the UK to promote and educate the public about all the wonderful things happening at our schools? What other schools are able to produce podcasts, organised by and starring pupils which can be accessed by the public? What other schools are able to train their staff and pupils to become confident DJs in Chinese and/or English and produce their own radio shows, hold interviews with guests or produce daily podcasts for the school buses to entertain those bus pupils? Wellington College Hangzhou does this all and more. Not only have we built on this over the past year but will continue to build on this from August 2020 onwards as well. It is an exciting time for all at Wellington College Hangzhou.
I would continue – there are 101 more triumphs that have been a huge part of the last year, whether this is the staggering progress of our pupils, the huge amounts of quality training we have seen provided for our teaching staff, the highly successful inspections led by the Education Bureau over the past year or the growing requests to visit the school from fellow educators, politicians and numerous VIPs. And school developments continue. We have a large number of projects to undertake during the summer for example, from mounting flood lights in the school (to enable more activities to take place in the evenings) to fitting more playground equipment for the pupils to play on as well as installing shading in the school grounds so pupils will be cooler when they play outside. And again, so much more besides.
We are committed to making our schools the very best they can be, with the support of our excellent staff, wonderful pupils and special parents and I know 2020-2021 academic year will be an even more successful year for Wellington College Hangzhou.
With that triumphant and confident last statement ringing in your ears – I wish you all a wonderful summer vacation and look forward to seeing you all towards the end of August.