The PIE: Last year, Nord Anglia moved the HQ back to London, can you tell us more about the reasons behind the move?
Andrew Fitzmaurice: We now have 56 schools, more than 53,000 students, and we are operating in 28 different countries. The UK is just a great place to run a global organisation from: think of Greenwich Mean Time! You know can deal with the whole world during their day and during your day, which is fantastic. There is a lot of people from different parts of the world that are very happy that their head office is going to be in the UK.
“The UK is a great place to run a global organisation from”
The second reason is that London is great in terms of transport. I can get to pretty much all of our schools around the world within 12 hours from London. That is certainly not the case from Hong Kong.
Another element is that 80% of our curriculum is English national curriculum, leading to IB, therefore the majority of the people working in the organisation are from the UK. Our education team has always been in the UK.
And finally, London is a great place for recruiting talent. We have grown pretty significantly. This year we are around 30% up on last year in the number of students so we expect that growth to continue, and we think that London is a great talent pool for us to continue to find people to help sustain that growth.
The PIE: You haven’t used the B-word yet… Why is that?
AF: I don’t think Brexit affects us as an organisation. We have schools in Europe: we have four schools in Switzerland, we are in Budapest, Bratislava, Warsaw, Prague, Moscow, but we see ourselves as a global organisation. I can’t see any particular issues for us in terms of Brexit.
The PIE: Let’s talk about China. Is the growing middle class in China going to sustain your operations?
AF: I spend a lot of time in China and we are opening up a large number of schools there. We are also opening bilingual schools for locals, different from expat schools, because Chinese students can’t go to expat schools – you have to have a [foreign] passport.
“I don’t think Brexit affects us as an organisation”
But now there are more and more returning Chinese who have got a passport or whose children have got a passport and who you can admit into the international schools.
I think this is great, and the Chinese economy is doing well: it is still growing a 6-7%, and by anyone’s standard that is pretty fantastic economic growth [Ed. Growth has declined according to estimates, but forecasts remain at 6%]. They have sustained it now for well over 10 years. There has been a massive increase in prosperity in China and a massive increase in middle class.
There is also a lot of investment in infrastructure and technology, and I would expect China to outstrip other countries with an enormous investment in education. I saw a fantastic slide a few years ago, comparing the GDP of South Korea and Ghana, probably 30 years ago. The GDPs were very similar, but of course South Korea is famous for investing a greater proportion of GDP in education than in any other country in the world and they have had a fantastic economic growth there for many years. Whether education is the sole reason for that we don’t know, but it is certainly a significant contributor.
So, in China what you are seeing is government investing in infrastructure and technology, and the parents investing in education for their children.
The PIE: So, 56 schools and 28 countries, all with very different cultures and expectations. Do you have one common safeguarding policy?
“The first section of every board meeting or managing meeting that we have is health and safety”
AF: We do have common standards across all of the schools, because one of the big benefits of the organisation of course is its data. We know what good practice looks like, and applying those standards across all of our schools is something that we do rigorously and we are also able to capture best practice.
The first section of every board meeting is health and safety.
The other thing which is really important is focusing constantly on safeguarding trying to raise the bar. It is not as easy in some places to get the background checks on people you get in the UK. One thing that helps is that a lot of our teachers are from the UK, or from Canada, the US, Australia – places where it is easy, or easier, to get background checks.
Of course, that is a massive duty of care for 53,000 students – it is something that we are very focused on. If you asked me about the thing that keeps me up at night, it’s not the trade war with China, or Donald Trump, it’s health and safety!
The PIE: There is a lot of talk at the moment about mental health provision in education. Do you have a company-wide policy on that?
AF: No, a lot of it will be down to the schools, with company-wide initiatives in practice. It might be something to do with capturing best practice in one particular school and then bringing that to lots of other places within the organisation.
We don’t have a McDonald’s-kind of education. If the school is going to be successful, the first thing it’s got to do is to serve its local community, and that is different everywhere you go in the world.
The second thing which is really important is that if feel that they are not in control of what is happening in their school, then they will become less motivated than they should be.
So, although we have a strong overlay of standards and spreading of best practice, you have to allow the school itself to develop it.
We don’t specify curriculum, it is up to the local school to decide which is the best curriculum to serve its community. They might decide that it’s IB instead of A-Level, for example. To deal with challenges like mental health, one single policy, centrally, is not going to work.
The PIE: Nord Anglia aims to ensure that technology is a key part of the curriculum, how does that interact with the schools’ policy?
AF: [People] often think technology is about replicating the same model which has proven to be fantastic. But if you don’t have the people at the local school onboard, you can have the best technology system in the world and they are not going to use it. At the moment we are trying to ensure that all of our teachers have got a level of understanding of what education technology can do.
I visited a school in Brazil, not one of our schools, and the guy who runs the school was very proudly showing me the system that they have developed themselves, based on phonetics and reading skills for the students, and it was iPad-based.
I made the point to him and he said “I am thinking that we might be able to use this and sell it beyond the school, use it for other schools.” But I thought: what you got here is that the people that are using this technology passionately believe in it. So, guess what, the students passionately believe in it, and it works fantastically. Whereas if you have that same thing going over at another school that think that they have already got their own great system, it could lead to difficulties.
“I think that technology is changing the world of education”
I don’t think there is any definitive study at the moment across a significant network that says the use of a specific technology, and by technology I am really talking about the software side as opposed to hardware, has revolutionised the way students perform in different subjects.
I think that technology is changing the world of education. It’s changing the way that students learn, and the way teachers interface with schools. It is changing the way schools are configured but I think in years to come there are still going to be schools, there are still going to be teachers it is still going to be the way that it worked – and the key thing is going to be getting those people that are working in the schools onboard, passionate about whatever system it is that they are using.