It was in January 2013 that my wife Eli and I set foot in China for the first time in our lives, and made our first steps into international education at The British School of Beijing, Shunyi. As many of you know, and some of you will remember, January 2013 was not a great month for Beijing; the AQI on the day we landed was recorded as 800 (and may have been more) and the afternoon temperature (during which we got lost in Beijing) fell to around -15OC
And yet, within about an hour of stepping through the doors of this amazing school, we knew that this was to be home and we never looked back. As for many of you, the decision to come to a new city for work is easy; the decision of whether this is right for your children is a much more important and life-changing consideration. But we knew instantly that Lucy would flourish here, as indeed she has. And for that we have to thank so many people – some phenomenal teachers who have ensured that she has grown in every way, fantastic (and of course annually changing) groups of friends who I am proud and privileged to have welcomed into our home and family, and parents and community who I genuinely believe think that what they do is just normal, but most definitely isn’t. The family that you create here is genuinely unique; it is something that I haven’t seen in my entire adult life spent in teaching, and it is something that the three of us will cherish forever.
The past four years have of course had their challenges. The Beijing market for international schools is packed and the constant need to compete ever-present. I see this as healthy, although inevitably you get truly emotionally involved with a school and it’s therefore always hard when people choose to leave and go elsewhere. I hope that we have stuck to what we believe, and that the promises we make continue to be shared by all those associated with our family. I really hope that the school continues to flourish as one that tries to bring out the best in every single child, irrespective of their background, race, previous achievement or perceived ability.
That is not of course to say that I, or we, believe that we have got everything right yet. There is much to do to continue to improve, and we have had some very productive meetings with our new Principal, Head and Deputy Head of Secondary. They are all totally at one with the ethos and spirit of the school, but with great ideas and huge motivation to help the school to be better yet, so that every single student goes on to achieve beyond what anyone ever would have dreamt possible. Richard Thornhill has made a wonderful start at the school – I always knew that he would – and I am very excited to hear about the way BSB develops over the coming years. In my new role I will be lucky enough to still be very much in touch and to see this all come to fruition. These new colleagues have already experienced what I already know; that the teachers and support staff at BSB have a passion to see young people succeed and a commitment to make it happen that are quite unique, and for that we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.
Several parents have very kindly asked if I am excited about moving to Hong Kong. In many ways of course we are – it is an exciting and vibrant city and one where families can flourish. But in all honesty, for me personally it is the new job as The Director of Education of Nord Anglia Education which thoroughly excites me. It is no exaggeration to say that all my colleagues, whether teachers or support staff, get up every morning inspired by the chance to make a difference to the lives of young people, and therefore the world of the future. There can be no greater privilege in life than this. The chance to have some influence on the direction of the lives of nearly 40,000 young people is quite literally mind-blowing and something I approach with a sense of awe and no little nervousness, along with the excitement.
It was Gregory Anderson, an English teacher who joined the school at the same time as we did, and who is possibly the most enthusiastic person I have ever met, who coined the phrase ‘BSB.... stands for Best School in Beijing’. I believe we have come a long way towards making that true, and in some respects we are definitely there. My family and I leave your family with the happiest of memories, a huge sense of gratitude and the knowledge that this truly wonderful school will go from strength to strength, united by the spirit of endeavour and community that binds us all together.
You will not be surprised at all that I have saved my last word for the children and young people who make up our student body. Working with young people is a joy and a privilege every single day. There are those people who can’t believe that some of us would choose to spend our entire working lives with teenagers; I actually cannot believe that someone pays me to do it!! Through their talents, their dedication, their approach to learning and to life but also through their kindness, goodness, and relentless optimism, these young people have a very exciting future ahead of them but much more than this, the world will be a very exciting place in their hands. I wish them every success, and that is a wish that I know will be fulfilled.
With thanks so much for everything, wishing you a wonderful summer and a great year ahead, wherever you may be, and in full anticipation of meeting many of you again in the future, somewhere in the world.
My best wishes