The first international school with a Scottish connection opens in China
Andrew Hunter, recently retired Headmaster of Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, reflects on the appeal of a British boarding school education, and the establishment of an international branch of his school in southern China in 2018.
A global phenomenon
For many years, Independent Schools in the UK have exported their brand names all over the world. This overseas market has grown enormously, with Merchiston being the first Scottish school to succeed in this type of venture by opening a branch of our school in Shenzhen.
This trend has been important for UK schools, generating important funds both to improve facilities and offer more bursaries to pupils who would otherwise be unable to attend a school like Merchiston.
It’s also been important for us to give pupils and staff of both schools in Edinburgh and Shenzhen the opportunities to develop and grow together.
The Shenzhen project is ambitious: Merchiston International, which unlike its sister school in Edinburgh, is co-educational which will in time, educate 1,200 students, of whom 600 will be boarders. Bringing a project like this to fruition takes time.
It was in 2013 when I was approached by a former Merchiston parent, Mr Jianjun Lyu with the idea of establishing an international school chain in China, drawing on the Merchiston brand. Over the years that followed, further talks took place, until 24 May 2016, when a formal agreement was signed.
Working with Mr Lyu, his assistant David Murphy and business partner Vincent Chen the next step for us was to pull together a project team of professionals led by Dr Duncan Moore; Paul Cabrelli (Project Consultant), David Rider (Development Director), and Chris Lynn (Merchiston International Shenzhen founding Head of School).
Back in Edinburgh, it gave me enormous pleasure to be part of a project that expands an educational philosophy I have spent a lifetime practising.
Blending the Merchiston appeal
Through the experiences of his son in Edinburgh, Mr Lyu recognised how Merchiston was able to provide the balance of skills, knowledge and resilience that young people need in the modern world. He and Mr Chen wished to bring this all-round education to the city of Shenzhen, allowing local students the opportunity to learn in a way that complements all that is admired in the Chinese curriculum.
With this unique blend of Learning and Teaching, we firmly believe that the pupils of our new school will be in a unique position to contribute to the amazing growth of the city of Shenzhen. The project will bring pupils a truly global outlook on life, linked as they are to Merchiston, Edinburgh, which has just been accepted as a member of the renowned World Leading Schools Association (WSLA).
Three avenues of excellence
Why do we believe in this British Boarding School educational system and how do we achieve what we believe in? First there is the tradition: Merchiston, for example was founded in 1833, and that tradition has been developed over the years to provide an education that concentrates on the development of the whole person, and in that tradition, the British boarding system sets out to achieve what I like to call Three Avenues of Excellence:
Pupil support, which nurtures a student’s development within and beyond the classroom, twenty four hours a day. Secondly, a love of learning for learning’s sake, while thirdly developing each and every pupil as a character with personality, inspiring them to be the best possible version of themselves.
A rich co-curricular programme running alongside the academic programme is essential, taking pupils out of their comfort zone, building confidence and self-belief. The very best of the British Boarding educational system is also about developing all the “soft skills” which are required today alongside the academic, developed and fully-stretched mind.
Hidden nuggets and opening doors
This approach to education is all about giving the pupils the chance and opportunities to find what they are good at and developing these talents within a secure community. I call this “finding the hidden nuggets of each young person” Any good school should be doing this, but the British boarding school has something special to offer in this respect. Therefore, the day is not just about being in the classroom, but the classroom is mighty important and will open the doors through which a young person, rounded by the acquisition of softer skills, will walk as a genuine all-rounder.
As the Gordonstoun School motto says, Plus Est En Vous – there is more in you, and in my view, that’s what the British boarding school experience is all about. It’s certainly what Merchiston International, Shenzhen is going to be all about.
We salute Mr Lyu and Mr Chen, the investors, and all those who have brought the Merchiston International Project to fruition. From Merchiston, Edinburgh, we offer the hand of friendship, not only to the members of our new sister school, but also to the people of the vibrant city in which it has been founded.
Headmaster of Merchiston, Edinburgh 1998-2018
Adviser, Merchiston International School, Shenzhen from 2018