| about this site |
who we are |
site map |
reading tips |
teaching tips |
student tips |
build vocab |
'When we started Harrow, we had 70 kids," Stuart Morris recalls. "But that was a bit of a scrape and a struggle. We didn’t have a school. We didn’t have anything really. We just put it in the condominium there.
"So I thought, well, we’ve got a school this time and we’re going to have a good site. We should be more confident than that. So, out of the top of my head really, I choose 315."
Try 585. That will roughly be the number of students in the Shrewsbury International School’s first-ever intake when it opens this September. And there could easily have been more.
"We could have a 1,000," said Morris, who has assumed the post of headmaster. "But we want the school to be well run. We want it to be well managed. We want it to be orderly. It would be very difficult to organise a well-run school from day one if you’ve got 1,000."
In fact, even an initial enrolment of 315 students would have been a highly satisfactory achievement. With around sixty international schools already established in Thailand and more opening all the time, this is one of most competitive educational environments in the world. Clearly Shrewsbury has something going for it beyond the promise of an orderly, well-managed school.
Parents of entering or prospective students cite various reasons for their interest in an untested school. Several mentioned the role of Morris and his team in starting up the very successful Harrow International School.
"We know the school," says Somyot Lertsumitkul who is sending a boy to Shrewsbury. "I know that Mr Stuart Morris has been here and started up the Harrow school. He’s not new here."
"They have experience," says Nanak Singh of the Morris team. He is also reassured by the connection with Shrewsbury School in England. "It’s an old established school in the UK," he says.
The Shrewsbury UK connection is particularly important to Richard Holt who is thinking of sending his son to the Bangkok school. "I’m an old Salopian (graduate of Shrewsbury) from England, so I’m probably not a fair person to talk to," he readily admits.
"I haven’t really talked yet with Stuart or even the people back in Shrewsbury as to how much coordination there is between the two schools. But it sounds to me quite a lot, in which case, then, no, I not nervous (about a startup school).
"And I do want to send my son to Shrewsbury in England when he’s at the right age. So I’m looking at this almost as a preparatory school for him to go to England," Holt explains.
To Alison and Chris Jolly, the Shrewsbury ties are also important, but there is another significant factor in their decision to send their very young children there.
"We know how phenomenal the school is in England, but location to us is very important too. We live right downtown. Our kids are young to be commuting," Ms Jolly says.
Shrewsbury’s Chao Phyra riverside site is remarkably convenient. "It has easy access from the expressways, Rama 3, and Charoen Krung," Morris says. "We’ll even bring kids in by boat."
Morris is also quick to point out, however, that there is another very important factor in the positive public response thus far – Chali Sophonpanich, the man primarily responsible for bringing the new school into existence.
"Sophonpanich is a name which is regarded highly in this part of the world," Morris observes. "And Chali does deliver if you look at the Emporium and Sathorn City Tower and everything else his companies have built. They’re built well. So there’s this confidence that the school will be well-built."
Ultimately, however, reputation, location and pedigree will take you only so far. A school is students, teachers, curriculum and the physical plant that houses them. The learning post set out to find out just what kind of a school the planners have envisioned for Shrewsbury International.
British, but also Thai
Like its counterpart in England, Shrewsbury International will follow the UK national curriculum. It is hardly a carbon copy, however. Shrewsbury UK is a boys secondary boarding school. Shrewsbury International, on the other hand, is coeducational, accepting students all the way from pre-school through A-levels. It does not offer a boarding option.
The differences are all clear adaptations to the local Thai environment. Morris says there will be significant adjustments to the curriculum as well, many of them prompted by his experience at Harrow.
"We’ve learned a good deal from our experience at Harrow," Morris explains. "The first thing is a sure belief that it is not helpful to Thais, to lose their Thainess. They will be living in this country. They will need to read and write Thai fluently, just like their counterparts in Thai schools. We are going to do very much more than pay lip-service to the Ministry demand that you teach Thais Thai. We’re going to do this properly."
One reason Morris is so insistent on a quality Thai programme is – like virtually all newly established international schools in Thailand – the initial intake will be overwhelming Thai.
"We could have all Thais, but we’re reserving places for non-Thais." Morris says. "We will achieve an 80-20 ratio, maybe 75-25."
Languages will also figure prominently in the curriculum. Chinese Mandarin is likely to be one popular offering. At the same time, German, French and Spanish will also be offered from year three.
The main focus, or course, will be on English, the medium of instruction. Here, Morris says, the school will be more demanding than was the case when Harrow first opened. English proficiency will be a key consideration in the selection process and the school will have a strong English-language support programme, he says.
Selecting a staff
Probably Morris’ most important task thus far has been selecting the faculty. Standards, he says, are extremely high. "I’m going to immense trouble to put together an exceptional and outstanding and unmatched team of teachers," he asserts.
With 2,500 applications thus far, that is proving to be an enormous task.
"I’ve answered each one personally," Morris says. "I’ve looked very very carefully through these applications, some of whom may be coming to Thailand for the wrong reasons. My connections, my phone messages, my networking, are helping me draw up what I hope are strong shortlists."
To assist him in the process, Morris says he has once again turned to his two most trusted advisors, David and Sue Foster. "I’ve pulled them out of retirement twice now. Once to start Harrow and they worked with me at Harrow for all those years.
"We interview each person. We make quite a good team. I just waffle along. David cuts in like a laser. He really makes people think. Sue is very knowledgeable about primary school and what’s expected."
The results have been very gratifying Morris says. "This is going to be a very strong team. We’ve got several heads of schools in England joining us who want to return to their first love which is teaching."
Staff orientation will be a full month, Morris says.
Much of the public attention thus far has quite naturally focused on Shrewsbury International’s most tangible feature, its riverfront construction site. Progress has been rapid and Morris was able to assure parents who toured the site recently that the school will open in September as scheduled.
According to Chali Sophonpanich, his company, City Reality, has held the land for quite some time. Were it not for the economic crisis, it might very well have been developed as a condominum or hotel, he says.
It didn’t take long to realise its potential as a school site, however. "Actually, this site was first proposed to Harrow International and we had extensive discussions with the school. In the end they opted to go out by the airport. So, we decided we might as well go ahead with what we had already planned," Mr Chali recounts.
To design the school, Mr Chali brought in prominent architect Robert Phillip Holmes. With a student body ranging in age from three to 18, his task was a complex one.
"We had many many conversations prior to starting, trying to get everyone’s input into what the feeling of the school should be, what the classrooms should be like, how they should be arranged, how they should be grouped. There are so many different possibilities," Holmes says.
There were some basic principles, however. First, as an urban site, Holmes says the utilisation of every metre of space must be carefully planned. "It’s not a rural site, so the outdoor spaces have to be as carefully shaped as the indoor spaces," Holmes explains.
"When we’re putting it all together, the outdoor rooms – I consider them rooms –are supposed to contribute to the composition of the environment the same way as the indoor rooms,"
Holmes says one of his key aims was to create spaces to foster communiction. "One of the things that I try to achieve is to make every opportunity for teachers and students to communicate with one another – not only in the classroom, but in the corridors and the spaces outside. If you walk around, you might say it looks rather lavish in terms of the amount of space available, especially the outdoor space on the ground level, but it’s all just trying to find as many mechanisms as possible for communication and learning from one another," Holmes says.
The school’s riverfront location created both opportunities and challenges, Holmes says. It affords spectacular views, to be sure, but not everyone at the school can see them.
"It’s impossible to make every room participate in the river. So, what we tried to do is that we tried to make one major outdoor space – a long court – as being kind of the main exterior outdoor collector space."
The court would begin at the playing fields on the front side of the school and continue all the way through to the river. This, Holmes says, gives everyone a sense of direction.
"So many rooms look out to that space that even when you’re here and you can’t see the river, you’ll always have a feeling that you know where it is. The river doesn’t disappear," Holmes says.
One of the interesting features of Holmes’s design is that it leaves exposed many of the building elements that are normally hidden. "We let the students see everything – the sprinkler area, the ductwork, the piping – everything. Maybe they’ll learn something about the built environment," he explains.
Separate but linked
The school itself will have three main parts – or "academic elements" as Holmes calls them. There will be separate buildings for the K1 through year 2 students. The junior school comprises the next four years and the senior school houses years seven through twelve.
While the schools will be separate, they are not isolated from each other. Holmes’s design calls for numerous linkages. "We wanted to give the three components identity, but we wanted to link them so they didn’t seem to be three different schools," he says.
The little ones will use facilities outside their own building, especially the auditorium and the gymnasium. The library serves as a very deliberate link between the junior and senior school.
"The library is a connection between the junior school and the senior school. You can walk into the library both from the junior school and from the senior school," Holmes explains.
The overall design concept, Holmes says, is to create a sense of unity and plan. "The idea is to try to intertwine all of the key things: the main entrances, the main stairs, the outdoor space, the indoor space and try to compose them into a logical, functional and yet symbolic arrangement so that wherever you are, you have a feeling that you’re part of a plan. You don’t go into a room and get lost."
Shrewsbury International will have its share of showcase elements, including a dining hall view which Morris boasts will rival that of the nearby Oriental Hotel. "I’m not sure about the quality of the food, however," he quips.
The school will have a state-of-the-art sports facility and an 800-seat auditorium for music and drama. The sports facility has three floors, offering badminton, basketball, tennis and squash courts. It even features a suspended indoor running track.
The UK connection
The ties with 450-year-old Shrewsbury UK are very close and important Morris says, giving his Bangkok school "gravitas" – a sense of quality and permanence.
"I think Thais feel more comfortable with a link that exists with an established school. Certainly the name of Harrow was helpful to us. Dulwich benefit from their link," Morris observes.
With David Foster leading the search for possible linkages, the field was eventually narrowed to three schools, then one.
"The final choice went to Shrewsbury simply because they were unanimously for it. There were no ifs, ands or buts," Morris stresses.
"The people were very positive. We haven’t regretted it for a minute. Immediately they’ve taken positive steps, active exchange. I’m in constant contact with Shrewsbury myself.
"The links between heads of departments are very active. They have appointed a teacher whose job it is to build bridges between Shrewsbury UK and us. It’s his job!," Morris says, obviously impressed.
Interestingly, Shrewsbury has strong ties to Thailand, a fact that Morris and his team discovered only recently.
"What I didn’t realise – I don’t think any of us realised – is that Shrewsbury actually was the school upon which Vajiravudh College was founded. And many links exist between important Thais and Shrewsbury in the UK," Morris says.
The newest Shrewsbury, therefore, would certainly seem to be opening on very firm ground. Expectations are extremely high. Meeting them is the next great challenge.
|© The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd.
All rights reserved 2003 |
Last modified: May 12, 2003