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How it all began....an interview with our school founder Mrs Iwona Thomas

  • 25years Collage z PaniaT
Why did you decide to open a school in Warsaw?

My husband, David, came to Poland to set up a branch of a multinational company in Warsaw. At the time, our daughter was two and a half and we were concerned about her Education: There was no English speaking British school in the city. We contacted the independent schools’ association in the UK asking if any of their members would be interested in venturing out to a new, opening market in Central Europe. Nord Anglia, which had a network of UK schools at that time responded and we agreed that if I find a suitable building by May we will go ahead with this exciting new joint project. I signed the letter of intent for the lease during the first few days of May and the rest as they say is history!

What was the single biggest challenge you faced when opening up the school?

There were a number of challenges although the first was convincing the authorities that a British style education was needed in Warsaw at that time. I must add though that once they understood what we were trying to achieve we received a huge amount of support from the Ministry of Education and Kuratorium in agreeing on the curriculum and other essential legal matters. Probably the biggest single challenge was finding and fitting out a suitable building; it took us three years just to secure a telephone land line,  it was 1992 and I still have the very  first ‘old fashioned’ mobile phone which we used for all our calls in those early years.

Why a British curriculum school? 

The idea sprung from a personal family need for our daughter however when we spoke to other British expats in the city it was evident that there was a need. We did it for our daughter and other British children like her whose parents thought they would be in Poland only for a few years and then return to UK. However, many of those first families who joined the school believing it was a short- term adventure ended up settling in Warsaw and my daughter and many of her friends spent their entire school life at TBS and were the first graduating class who went on to study at universities around the world with a significant proportion of them going to the UK for their University studies.

I think the school opened with just over 30 children, where did they come from?

In 1992 large western companies, a significant number of them being British were establishing offices in Poland.  Directors and senior managers were coming to Warsaw to provide experience and structure in management roles which would ultimately be handed over to Polish specialists as they gained experience and an understanding of the company. Also, Polish families who had settled and grown up in the UK were beginning to move back to Poland as new opportunities arose. With their families also returning with them their priority was to secure high standard education, preferably British, for their children. I am still full of admiration for the parents who trusted in us during the first years, who believed that the new school will provide the right education for their children and I am very thankful to them for all the support they have given us. It was an extremely rewarding time with a fantastic school community developing very quickly.

Entrepreneurs work in a field that they have expertise in, with no experience in running a school how did you use Nord Anglia to help you?

Nord Anglia and I agreed initially that I will be responsible for “the Polish end” and they will concentrate on providing Principals and teachers. This provided simple clarity to the operations of the school and allowed both parties to concentrate on what they know best.  Obviously, as the school grew we found more challenges and responsibilities to cope with and had to adapt the model continuously. Today Nord Anglia Education is a global educational company with 48 premium schools around the world: They have a wealth of experience and are very connected. Our early school model of “local knowledge” coupled with international educational experience and recruitment is still favoured by Nord Anglia with most of the schools around the world organised in a similar manner to ours: It evidently works!

So how did we recruit the first teachers and the first Principal?

I remember the very first Principal and five teachers who came out, full of enthusiasm about their new experience and yet concerned what the unknown will bring. I will never forget the Principal’s face during the very first assembly when he stood in front of 35 pupils, all of them different ages. I think he must have been then questioning his decision of moving to Poland. However, numbers doubled every year and the school grew from strength to strength. As Nord Anglia has grown as an international education company our students have been provided with an ever-increasing range of opportunities. Who would have thought when we had those first 35 children and six staff that 25 years later our teachers would have access to a bespoke MA in Education from King’s College London and world- leading professional development from MIT and Julliard whilst our students would have access to the Global Classroom, Julliard Music programme, MIT STEAM challenges and the opportunity to visit the Nord Anglia owned camp in Tanzania for community service work.      

What did the first graduates go on to do? Where are they now?

My daughter went on to complete three degrees at Durham, St. Andrew’s and Cambridge; she now works for an investment fund in London. Her best friend, the second pupil enrolled in 1992 graduated from Oxford, having to wait first of all to be admitted at the age of 18, as she finished our school with 44 points at IB being only 17! She works in the financial sector. All our pupils have done extremely well for themselves finding their own ways and succeeding with their personal plans. We really are very proud of them and feel privileged that we were able to look after their education. We are honoured to be able to look after so many pupils in our school now and to watch how they develop, work hard and expand their talents. It has been 25 years of an amazing journey.

Do you still keep in touch with alumni? If so, could you give some examples of what they have gone on to do?

I meet them and catch up with their achievements. They also visit the school to talk to some of the teachers who have worked here almost from the beginning. They are always impressed with the developing facilities and the continued success we have in the IB programme often sending students to their university alma maters. Their successes are numerous both in their personal lives as well as professional. Some of them started families with the next generation already born.