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Nord Anglia
02 March, 2022

6 must-have features of outstanding schools


  What kind of school should parents be looking for when their child is a fully formed, shiny adolescent? Let us see what Mr. John Brett, Principal of the British School of Beijing shared about six must-have features of the school that a child should attend!

1. Choose a school that teaches students how to think, not just what to think

“Now, what I want is facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life.” So said Thomas Gradgrind, the notorious school board Superintendent in Charles Dickens's Hard Times set in the 19th century. One legacy from that period that has blighted education ever since has been the insistence that children are taught what to think, rather than how to think. Too often, schools have paid lip service to the grand ideal of teaching ‘thinking skills’ only for these good intentions to wither in the face of content-driven curricula and exams. 

Of course, thinking skills have traditionally been infused within the curriculum: logic in Maths and Latin or problem-solving in Science, for example. If one were to tease out such skills and teach them in a discrete way, one might end up with a different list of subjects, such as: 

  • Learning strategies: revision, memory, organisational skills, time management.

  • Thinking skills: sorting, analysing, evaluating, brainstorming, critical thinking.

  • Personal skills: presentation skills, collaborative skills, personal welfare.

Given the ever-changing nature of the world of work into which children will emerge in twenty or so years’ time, the ability to think clearly and critically will surely be an essential skill. 




2. Choose a school that balances informality and compliance

There will always be tension in schools between children learning how to ‘follow the rules’ without reducing their scope for creativity. The very best schools know and recognise this and will work to create an environment where they can give students full scope for the imagination and originality that is in them; where physical, intellectual, and philosophical risk-taking are positively encouraged. 

The very best schools are places where consideration for other people, respect for their property, respect for their views, kindness towards them, and good manners flourish. 

Tomorrow’s leaders will need to be imaginative, brave, compassionate, empathetic, and determined. Look for evidence that the school is doing all it can to ensure that the seeds of those qualities are planted in the students from an early age and that those green shoots are allowed to germinate.


3. Choose a school that maintains strong links between home and school

Make sure the school you choose is one where the relationship between home and school is seen as a positive and essential partnership to be nurtured, not a necessary evil to be endured! How does the school communicate with parents? How easy is it to see a teacher or member of the school leadership team if you have a concern? Does the school produce a regular newsletter? Is there a Parents’ Association and, if so, what is their function?

Close links between school and home are a strong indicator that the school is well and confidently led.



4. Choose a school with outstanding teaching underpinned by technology

The world of work into which our children – or grandchildren – will emerge, is changing faster than at any time in our history. Equipping students with transferable skills, particularly life-long learning habits and an ability to work collaboratively, will be critical to their future prosperity.

Schools investing in teachers who are the most adept technologically, flexible in their working regimes, and, above all, sensitive to the changing demands placed on families and their children, will surely have the greater chance of achieving the best possible sustainable outcomes for their students.

New and emerging technologies can now place the learner at the centre of the teaching and learning process, which the teacher has hitherto occupied. Technology can enable schools to become true centres of learning that provide access and support beyond the conventional school day and to a far wider community than ever before.




5. Choose a school with an ethos of global citizenship and support for environmental issues

There is no doubt that global citizenship education in any form, particularly when involving students’ participation in projects that address global issues of a social, political, economic, or environmental nature, results in a more globally oriented and collaborative approach to education.

Promoting a culture of enquiry and discovery about the world around us and the interconnectedness of life on Earth has come out of the cold and is now a central tenet of education.   




6. Choose a school that promotes values of kindness, resilience, and service

Of all the qualities, kindness will be the most important and of the most value. Through all the changes in society and the advancement of AI and other technologies that are already racing towards us, those who retain the capacity for kindness and encouraging others will be crucial in keeping at least one eye on the human condition, wellbeing, and happiness on which we all depend.  Helping and even encouraging parents to slowly unwrap the layers of cotton wool in which children are so tightly wrapped from birth may just be the most important thing a school can do for them. Learning to fail and to cope with disappointment, fighting one’s own battles, and becoming self-sufficient is every bit as important as learning anything else and can often need strong leadership from school.


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And the final word of advice to all the students out there would be to read books, play outside, watch the news, ask lots of questions, make mistakes, invent something, learn to swim, make a new friend, sleep in a tent, run until you’ve got a stitch – then keep running, try new food, have an argument, make a cake, write a song, have an adventure, stare at the moon and wonder what’s beyond it… do all these things and more, and you will soon begin to understand how the world works and your place in it.  

Now, it’s time for you – as parents to decide! Or to save your precious time, book a real visit to our school and find out more about the 6 must-have features right here at BVIS Hanoi: Open Day for Prospective Parents