Recently Head of Abbots Bromley International College at Abbots Bromley School Ann Johnson, and Russell Alkins who runs the Dancing and Performing Arts of the school had a visit to BE Education in Shanghai. In their interview with BE, they mentioned how they transformed from a single-sex school to co-educational school, and that AB takes leading role for value-added. Let's go check what they've got to say.
Click the link below to watch the interview video
BE: Could you introduce yourself first?
Ann Johnson (Ann): I'm Mrs Ann Johnson. I'm Head of AB International College at Abbots Bromley School in Staffordshire of England.
Russell Alkins (Russell): And my name is Russell Alkins. Along with my wife I own and run the Dancing and Performing Arts of the school, specializing in dance and musical theatre.
BE: Could you talk a little bit about the school's history and how does compare to other UK schools?
Russell: The lovely thing about Abbots Bromley School is that it has been established for over 140 years. Originally it was established as an all-girl-school, and one of the first five or six Woodard School, created for the education of young ladies in the UK.
It remained an all-girl school through until about 12 years ago when we started taking boys into our prep school, mainly through parental request to one to have children of that age in one school rather than traveling to others in the area. Two and half years ago, we made the decision to start taking boys into our sixth form, which is proved to be very, very successful. And from this year we're accepting boys into Year 7; next year we will break and set them into Year 8, and a rolling program through so that by 2020 we would be fully co-educational.
Ann: The transfer of boys into our sixth form has been really successful, having added a lot of life with the school. We're delighted with the progress we have. Very good students.
BE: Where's the school located and what are the advantages?
Ann: Yes, we're right in the middle of England. We're in a county called Staffordshire which is called the creative county and which fits in very well with our school. We're very close to Birmingham, 45 minutes from Birmingham International Airport, an hour and half from Manchester Airport, and just over 2 hours from Heathrow. Our students use all three of these airports very successfully.
Russell: One advantage of being where we are in such a beautiful county is that it's very rural, very clean and safe. We're very privileged to be part of the village community in that many people in the village walk in our school at all levels from teaching to grounds and various sort of things. So it's a community atmosphere in a very very attractive English village.
BE: Could you talk a little bit about the percentages of international students and boarders respectively?
Ann: Our school is from age 3 all the way through 18. Boarding from the age of 8. Across the whole school 18 percent of our students are international students. We have students from 18 different countries as well. In the senior school only from Year 7 through to the end of Year 13, it's 22 percent international students, and boarding about 50 percent, just under 50 percent of our international students.
Russell: We're very lucky with the dancing performing arts and also our equestrian center. We have saving for over 20 horses within the school. And the courses like that within our environment – they bring in our UK boarders, so we're able to maintain a very high percentage of UK boarders. Because they come for the specialized subjects, and we would be very carefully to keep a good balance of UK and international.
BE: Could you talk a bit about the school's values and ethos?
Ann: We're part of the Woodard Schools. So schools such as Lancing, Hurstpierpoint College, Ellesmere College, Worksop College, we are all parts of that same family. So our school has an Anglican tradition. That gives us a very good Christian ethos, but that also means we attract students of all different faiths to our school, and now it works very well.
So it's based very much on kindness and empathy, looking after each other. We are a very good community. Just as important as that, it's about the student themselves. We treat each student as a very important individual. We find out as much as we can about them. We encourage them to reach their potential and perhaps even add a little bit more.
BE: What are some of the unique programmes and co-curricular activities at your school?
Russell: You've said earlier a few moments ago that we're a very British school, and you've got to look at what you look at from a British school, not just your academics, but it's all the wonderful things you can do while you're there. We have got our own equestrian center, provision for over 20 horses. We've got the performing arts, indoor heated swimming pool, extensive sports grounds. And we do encourage our students when they come to the school to try some of these things, to try to get involved. And then when they leave, whether go to university or they come back to China, that brings so much more than just academic qualifications.
It's also very important that if they're working hard, then they learn to play hard. We prefer our students to be riding, dancing, swimming, playing basketball or badminton rather than sitting and watching a DVD. We have a lot of things within our extensive programmes to give them those opportunities.
Ann: Another very strong fit to our school is our music department as well. We find that students from China often come really wanting to work very hard in their academic subjects, and then just mentioning passing their grade 8 piano or grade 8 violin. They seem to be very talented students from that point of view. And they have a lot of opportunities. We're a very good choral school and our instrumental side of our music is growing very rapidly. We have a lot of students who have additional lessons. And there's a lot of activities: we have a garage band, we have a jazz band, we have an orchestra as well as 4 different choirs. So there's a lot of opportunities for students to keep busy. And that's very important.
BE: What about the matriculation results at your school in the last 2-3 years?
Ann: Our A-level results last year have placed us in the top 4 percent of schools in England for value-added. We're a non-selective school, so you won't find us probably at the top of league tables for A-level results. You might find GCSE results this year because they're extremely good. Because we don't only accept students who are predicted As and A*s. We do accept students who are predicted lower results. But the value-added score is really important for us.
Because what we do promise is that we will do everything we can to make sure that those students get that predictive results and a little bit more. So we're very proud of our standing in English schools for the way that we encourage our students and get our students to reach their potential.
So it's very much an individual base. We look to each student, talk to them about where they're wanting to get to, and we do as much as we can to make sure that they reach their potential and fulfill their own dreams- where they want to be and what they want to do in the future.
Russell: Of course, in addition to those qualifications, when they move onto universities, top universities in the UK are looking for more than just the four or three A-level results. They want to see what else that person has done, what their communication skills like. More and more now universities are relying on interview as well as qualifications, and if you can present yourself in an interview with 3 A* in maths and 2 sciences, but you’ve also achieved a professional level in dance, grade 8 in musical instrument, or you can ride or you do other activities like that. It sets you apart from just the student who's got academic qualifications.
BE: What's the application process for international students? And how should they prepare?
Ann: We'd like to see a student's school report, and we'd like to meet the student, either be in person, which is always preferable. We do like to visit different cities and different countries. So we do that when we can. If we can't, then we will skype interview, or WeChat.
Again that's a way of us getting to know the student and sometimes that parents who want to ask questions. That's very important too. We do have a short test, which will give us an indication of where they will be, because we're a non-selective school, and we have different streams of groups, particularly in English, Maths and Science. So there'll be a higher division and a lower division, and it helps to place the student.
So the process is perhaps a little bit longer than some schools, and as much as we get to know as much as we can about the individual student. It's not just a test that you either pass it or fail it. We talk about what the students want to get from us and we'd like to operate a system of a best fit. Is the student right for our school? Are we right for that student?
We'd be very honest if we thought that the student wouldn't get what they're expecting from our school. If they're wanting to go to a school where all they do is academic subjects and nothing else, then probably Abbots Bromley might not be the best place, but if there're students who've got an interest to develop an interest, become a whole person, and an interesting person, and have a lot of things to offer, then absolutely it's a great place to come and study.
Russell: I think Ann has covered most of it there. The fact of interview, the depth of interview we're trying to do, we hope to ensure us that students don't arrive and find that it is the wrong place. Parents are making a great commitment both financially and emotionally letting their children travel to the UK to go to school. The last thing they want to do is arriving in September to find while in October that it wasn't the right choice. So Ann and I and the decision management teams spend a lot of time with interview getting to know that student before offers are made, trying to prevent that from happening.
BE: What types of students is your school looking for?
Ann: The right student for Abbots probably is student with passion, or interest, or a desire to learn something new. So their academic side is very, very important. They might be an excellent arithmetician, or an excellent scientist. They might be a wonderful artist. But as well as that they might want to learn something new, like dancing or riding.
BE Education student Marina has left us this summer in Year 13. When she came, she had not danced before, and she left ending up on the vocational dance course. So a student who's got lots of different interests and wants to grow as a person and become quite an interesting individual.
Russell: Ann mentioned early on that we're located in Staffordshire county. The county that we're in is called creative county. It's also what we call ourselves, the creative school within a creative county. And that doesn't just mean creative arts, like art, music, dance and performing art. It's a creative approach to all the teaching that in the school.
In our science department, we've got staff there who's a former engineer for Rolls-Royce Aero Engines. So when she is teaching it's a very creative way of teaching – she's being in the business. She understands the science, physics and mechanics. So it's creative in the approach of all the subjects, not just the creative arts.
Ann: Our Head of Maths. Maths wasn't his degree. He did physics as his degree actually. His passion is rocket science. So as well as teaching maths every day, in our enrichment time which is our extra-curricular time, he does a rocket science club. So we have to have special lessons and they launch rockets. So we're a little bit different.
BE: What's your impression of BE?
Ann: We like BE very much. We've had lovely students from BE. I mentioned Marina earlier. I think she's the star of BE student. We also had Monica who just left us in this summer who also did very well. And Marina is just packing somewhere in Shanghai at the moment ready to go off to UCL. She's been a very typical AB student, just through herself completely into the life of this school. She was wonderful.
So we like BE very much, and I like the way that BE follows your student very carefully. I know that Ellen and the consultants have kept in touch with her students over the last 5 years, and they've been with us at Abbots and that's very much appreciated.