For Thomas Banyard, Headmaster at the newly opened King’s College International School Bangkok, 2020 has so far been a year of major challenges and minor miracles.
Just over one year ago, when King’s College International School Bangkok was still in the early construction phase, one of the biggest worries confronting Headmaster Thomas Banyard was how to best prepare for the problem of PM2.5 adversely affecting the outdoor air quality. Needless to say, things have changed.
“When you start a school, you have contingency plans in place if the classrooms aren’t ready, and you worry about teachers dropping out or not getting your student numbers, but we managed to get through all of that and then Covid-19 happens. And I think, ‘Well, this is the opening year at King’s Bangkok… it couldn’t have been made much more difficult,” he says with a laugh, recalling his predicament.
“But a Headmaster is only as good as the people he works with, and we’ve got an amazing staff,” Thomas goes on to say. He also points out that the construction actually finished ahead of schedule, but they kept to their September 10th opening date. “We wanted to give our teachers enough time to get out of quarantine and get settled, rather than rushing them straight into the classroom.”
Even without the obstacles presented by the Coronavirus pandemic, opening a new school is a significant challenge. However, King’s College International School Bangkok is affiliated with Britain’s King’s College School Wimbledon, a prestigious independent day school established in 1829 by royal charter, so it arrived on the scene with impeccable credentials.
The curriculum, as taught by qualified and experienced teachers, is derived from King’s Wimbledon, but features local adaptations, including an emphasis on Thai culture studies. Another attractive feature is the school’s central location, near Rama III on Ratchadapisek Road. Add to that facilities that include an Olympic size pool, four tennis courts, a 600-seat auditorium, a split-level library, an Early Years centre, and four state-of-the-art science labs, and it’s easy to see why the initial enrolment exceeded Thomas’s own expectations.
“We’ve opened pre-nursery to Year 6, and the Early Years is starting to get full,” he explains. “Then next year, we’ll open four senior year groups – 7 through 10 – and then we’ll grow one year at a time. In the future we plan to construct a new building, which will be our senior block. By then we’ll have capacity for 1,500 students.”
As for the teaching staff selection, Thomas shares the process of recruitment in which the teams in Bangkok and Wimbledon worked closely together. “Teachers are key to the success of the school. We had more than 1,500 applicants from across the world. Then, once we selected our final few, the Senior Leadership Team at King’s Wimbledon did their final interview to ensure that our selected teachers have a love of teaching and can be suitable role models, just like King’s Wimbledon teachers.”
“We’ve also spent a huge amount of time and investment on our assistant teachers, who are superb. They all have bachelor’s degrees and one third have master’s degrees. They’re fluent in Thai, obviously, but they’re also fluent in English. We’ve trained them to make sure they understand what international education is all about, what we’re aiming for, and what is different from our school as compared to a Thai school.
“We don’t want our children just to learn how to sit nicely,” he stresses. “That’s not going to help them later in life. We want them to explore, we want them to be curious, so for instance we bring aspects of play-based learning to Years one and two. As for the parents, they’re so supportive if you explain what it is they’re supporting.”
Anticipating the concerns of a parent comes naturally to this Oxford educated Headmaster. “I’ve got two young daughters, so I understand what parents are looking for. Many of the parents are my age, and I know what’s important is that their children are happy. A lot of our parents are quite reassured by the fact that my children are enrolled here as well.”
Parents are also reassured by the history and strong identity the school gets from Wimbledon – from the colour of the bricks, to the colours of the school uniforms. Students, meanwhile, benefit from the school’s tradition of pastoral care, which looks after each student’s well-being, and the extensive co-curricular programme, which caters to sports, academic, and creative pursuits. In the end, students get the best of the UK experience, including a GCSE /IGCSE level syllabus, while still living with their families.
Finally, there’s the importance King’s puts on developing good character. The school’s long-time motto, Sancte et Sapienter, is Latin for “with holiness and wisdom”, however Thomas – who has taught at King’s College School Wimbledon and its international school in Hangzhou, China – updates this phrase to reflect the school’s more modern values. “Holiness is kind of a misnomer, because we’re non-denominational, so good manners, kindness, and wisdom are our three core values. Holiness we interpret to be more about respect and good manners. An education that starts with us here truly is the beginning of a great heart.”
Now that King’s College International School Bangkok is up and running, the road ahead seems less rocky, but the reality is that everyone has to be ready for a possible return to online learning should COVID-19 make a comeback.
“It would break my heart if we had to do that,” admits Thomas. “Actually, one of the positives that’s come out of COVID-19 is how happy children are to come back to school. Some of our children haven’t been in a school since February, and my own children haven’t been since March.
“But if we get another wave we have to be prepared. We’re lucky enough to have gained the accumulated experience from our partner schools during this year, without having to go through it ourselves, so now we know exactly what we’re doing in terms of online learning.”