Brockwood Park School’s Beijing Visit

By Adrian Sydenham, Co-Principal, Brockwood Park School


Three events had been arranged by my hosts, Sue and Kang, in Beijing. The first, a round-table discussion with members of the active local K-group they have been facilitating, lasted about 6 hours in total. Views, and dissenting views, were openly laid on the table with admirable dignity. Much of the discussion could have been happening at Brockwood, with some energetic exchanges on the definitions and scope of such terms as 'authority', 'respect', 'understanding', and 'co-operation'. The difference, perhaps, being one of stamina...

A more tricky part, because of the danger of doing an injustice to the 'other places', involved the differences between Summerhill, Waldorf schools, and BP. There was also a more personal story hidden within the discussion: what to do if your child is unhappy at school, you have found an inspiring alternative, but your wife, or husband, refuses to agree to a change of schools? Appropriately enough, arrival at the venue had coincided with witnessing a bitter public feud between man and woman on the pavement, a crowd of onlookers gathering, and each adult physically attempting to pull a hapless 10-year old over to their side while he tried to keep them out of spitting range from each other.

Beijing Visit

The second event was being hosted by a new (founded in 2009) and rather alternative combined middle- and senior-high school of about 1000 pupils. The school has strong links with a royally attended high school in Denmark and with the United States with regard to further education. Class sizes tend to be smaller than the average, down to about 20 in the senior school; the equipment and facilities are superb, including an open-plan library where students are trusted to take books when needed and a large interactive screen in most classes. Judging by the cabinets in the halls most students would appear to have their own iPads. Green grass and trees are lacking, but there are three basketball courts and a mouth-watering fitness room. The head teacher is unconventional in his outlook, both in management-style and the uniqueness-of-each-child-centred approach, and not least in agreeing to host the day's events in the first place. The teachers who had given up their Sunday to attend the morning's mini-discussion were relaxed and familiar with K's teaching. The biggest problem?  Parents who love the school when they first come across it, and then revert to a more traditional role, starting to panic when the exam years get closer.

The third event took place in the school's lecture hall, a publicly advertised event that had attracted at least 340,000 hits by the time it started. Fortunately, the unseasonably cold weather, the location well out of the centre, and the family-Sunday timing meant that not all of them turned up. Still, about 120 brave souls, just filling the room, listened to a slide-supported introduction to the school, watched the introductory DVD (ca. 15 minutes with Chinese subtitles), and then listened again to a brief introduction of the intentions, before launching into questions. Once again, attendees showed an easy familiarity with K, perhaps solid proof that some of at least 40 titles now available are selling well. One member of the audience revealed that he was the headmaster of a new alternative school, fifty pupils at the moment but aiming for 200 or so (hence rather small by Chinese standards). An inspiring heightening of attention in the room when one asked about whether it might be possible to open a K-school in China….

To see Adrian's presentation go here