The new school year is back and getting into full flow. At Dulwich College Shanghai, there's also a breath of fresh air in the form of new Head of School, Damien Charnock. He arrived at the school last month after holding leadership positions in two of the UK’s leading schools. Urban Family went to meet him at the school's Pudong campus to find out what's in store for the coming school year.
It’s your first year in Shanghai after being in London for many years, what will the challenges be (if any) working here versus working in London?
Schools are very similar you know! They are fairly predictable, ordinary places; what makes them good is very un-mysterious. Managing a school here doesn’t feel very different to managing a school elsewhere. There are more varied staff and children and you’re obviously in a different context. There are two major languages being taught and spoken in school, rather than just one. But no, these don’t present challenges of a very significant sort as long as there are the right structures to support them.
When the opportunity came about to move here, was it something you had to think about long and hard?
I was given the opportunity to think about it long and hard, so the process was quite a lengthy one, I didn’t feel at all rushed in the process.
Did you come out and see Shanghai first or had you been here before?
No, I hadn’t been here before so it was interesting. When I was invited to apply I knew I was going to get a week in Shanghai out of it, so that had advantages.
What’s your staffing team like, is it a very good mix of Chinese, Europeans and Americans, what’s the range like?
We have a staff number of about 350 altogether. The school has a huge number of different operations and facilities, the grounds have got to be kept, the buildings have got to be a maintained, so there’s a whole range of different people. Most of the teaching staff are from the expat community, mainly from the UK, but also from the US, Australia, one or two from Europe as well. Our Mandarin teaching team of course are Chinese, and Singaporean. It is a very diverse team.
In comparison to Dulwich College London, do you think your schools are very similar, or do you have more freedom here to let the school brand grow in itself?
They’re not an attempt to be a clone, and you couldn’t do that in any case. I mean Dulwich is an all boys’ school, which would be a fairly significant challenge here. It really is about the style and approach to education which we have in common, the ‘Dulwich model’ if you like. The seven Dulwich schools in Asia are very similar in feel. You go to Dulwich Beijing and that feels very similar to Dulwich Shanghai or Dulwich Suzhou because they are in the same context. But we all feel quite different in many ways to the London school, but very much have the same approach to education.
The Dulwich Model is all about enabling young people to be confident and having the tools to go and express themselves, tell us more about that.
It recognises that success comes from a very broad education, but an academic education is right at the heart, there’s no doubt about it. A strong value is placed upon academic achievement and the schools are selective; that imparts a certain character to the school. But the Dulwich model very much is about recognising that the richness of the education experience comes from the whole of school life.
For instance all the Junior and Senior school students will be going off in a couple of weeks to various parts of China. They learn skills of leadership and team- work, how to be resilient, accept challenges and how to cope with failures. The other side is a focus on creativity. Children are encouraged to engage in music, drama and art. The whole teaching at the school is focused on creative approaches to all things, including maths and science. Those are the key features of the Dulwich experience and that’s certainly the same here as it would be in London.
Dulwich in London is very synonymous with sports and excelling in all areas of sport, is it the same here?
Yes and Shanghai is probably among the Asian Dulwich schools, the most sporty.
I haven’t seen the facilities yet, is air quality a challenge here? You have indoor facilities as well, so nothing has to stop if there is adverse weather?
Nothing has to stop; we’ve taken it on board and already have complete air filtration inside, so we are all breathing pure air. It was a huge investment, but it does mean in all our big gyms and so forth play can go on.
That’s very nice for parents to hear!
Well it’s a serious business and putting the safety of children right at the forefront is obviously most important beyond academic work. We’ve adapted well and have very advanced plans to develop an internal play-ground which will be pure filtered air, so we can play extensive sports inside when the air quality isn’t great.
So what are the highlights of the coming school year, we’re expecting some drama productions…
In October we have Diversity Month, something we do across the Asian colleges. Four concerts will be held here and we’re bringing in leading jazz and musical performers from across the world. We have a few other interesting visitors coming, like the Queens’ College Choir and our own drama is on the way. Next term we have a massive music festival, engaging with International schools across Asia and thousands of performers including choirs and orchestras. We have an Olympiad, a new event this year in which 200 students from Dulwich London are coming out and touring the Asia schools in March. There is always something going on here, it’s a very busy school.
You’ve had a chance to talk to lots of parents before the start of the new school year, what’s the feeling you get for family life here?
It’s obviously different, as our parent body is varied. I think here is a very easy area to live in and most families settle quickly. The school is good at building a sense of community so parents are much more involved in school life. One of the big differences between a school in the UK or the States is that you see far more of parents. They attend more events; the school is a social and cultural center..
There are more non-working parents than there would be in the West and so there are those kinds of differences, but that adds richness to the school and we have very strong parents association.