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COVER STORY: Wellington College International's Dynamic New Headmaster
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altAs the new school year gets underway, parents of Wellington’s pupils can rest assured that their children are in very good hands! The energetic new headmaster at Wellington College International Tianjin, Mr Murray Fowler, is a man who has Wellington’s educational philosophy and culture running through his blood. Readers of this publication, many of whom have close links to Wellington College, will no doubt get a sense of the energy, passion and expertise which define Mr Fowler’s leadership. He brings a great deal of experience to his challenging new role, and he has a clear vision of where this elite institution should be heading in the future. Read on and learn more about the leading man behind Tianjin’s premier international school...

First of all, please can you introduce Wellington College to our readers and give us a brief history of how the institution came to being here in Tianjin?

Unlike many top British schools, Wellington is named after a person, not a place – Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington. It was recently awarded “Best Public School in Britain” by Tatler, and “Most Forward Thinking School in Britain” by The Week. With a distinctive educational philosophy, a passion for excellence, and an adventurous spirit driving it forward, setting up an overseas school was a logical next step for Wellington. The combination of a fantastic site in the centre of one of China’s most dynamic, exciting and rapidly growing cities, and an excellent partner in the renowned LJZ, made Tianjin an ideal choice. In many ways, coming here, instead of the more predictable option of Beijing, mirrors the motto that goes all the way back to our foundation in the 1850’s: “fortune favours the brave”!


Tell us a bit about yourself and your career highlights thus far.

I went to university at King’s College in London, and trained as a teacher in Oxford before starting my career at two of the UK’s best boarding schools– Charterhouse and St. Edward’s, Oxford. In 1991 I moved to Wellington College UK, little knowing I would go on to spend 20 years there! I was fortunate enough to be given the chance to run an academic department– Geography– at a young age, and did not look back, going on to also be Housemaster of a boys boarding house, helping coordinate the introduction of the IB Diploma, and run a Year 12 group of over 200 pupils; all at a time when the school was growing from under 700 to over 1000 students. It was a very exciting period, and an incredibly invigorating place to work.


What brought you to this role in Tianjin and how do you feel about working here?

The current Master of Wellington UK, Dr Anthony Seldon, and his Board of Governors, were always determined that any overseas partner school should carry the core ethos and values of Wellington, its DNA if you like, in a very visible and highly embedded way. This desire for strong and lasting links extended to ensuring that at least some of the key staff involved in the foundation of the school in Tianjin should have a substantial Wellington heritage.

After 20 years at Wellington UK, I was delighted to be offered the chance to be involved in such a bold and fresh challenge, allowing me to stay very much part of the family, but opening up such a breadth of new experiences and opportunities. Neither I, nor my wife, who is our Nursery teacher and who worked at Wellington UK’s junior school, Eagle House, have once regretted the move, and we feel genuinely happy here in Tianjin. It is a city of surprising delights, friendly and sincere people, with a charm that belies its size. It feels like home!


How did Wellington College International obtain its status as the leading provider of international education in Tianjin?

Much of this is to do with the unprecedented strength of the partnership between us and Wellington UK, but it is also closely tied to the very high quality of teachers that we have been able to attract to work at the school. The excellent reputation, outlook and ambition of Wellington, here and in the UK, excite good teachers who very much want to be part of our ongoing growth. It is a close-knit, positive and very sociable teaching team, and the happy, friendly and purposeful atmosphere they have quickly established in the school has certainly made an impression. Our outstanding facilities obviously help too, but more on those later!


Give us a brief overview of the school’s educational philosophy and tell us about the curricula you follow.

Academic excellence will always be at the heart of what we do, but we are also equally passionate about involvement in a whole range of things outside the classroom. We believe strongly that education should develop ALL of the strengths that pupils have, not just some; this is the thinking behind our Eight Aptitudes approach, based on the theory of ‘multiple intelligences’. This aligns closely with the philosophy behind the IB Diploma Programme, which explicitly values the extra-curricular things in its Creativity, Action & Service element.

Our pupils in Year 12 and above will do the IB Diploma, while those in Years 10 and 11 undertake GCSE qualifications. Below that, the pupils in both the Senior and Junior School follow courses based on the British National Curriculum, from the Early Years Foundation Stage to Key Stage 3, with a strong emphasis on inquiry-based learning in the Junior School.



Tell us about your current pupils. How many nationalities comprise your student population and how does the school integrate and cater for such a diverse group of young learners?

We currently have over 20 different nationalities at Wellington. It is a great strength of both our academic structure and our pastoral care, based on the House system, that there are all sorts of opportunities for pupils to mix, make friends and learn from each other. Thus in class, at play, in activities, in the House rooms, at assemblies, at Student Council meetings, during performances, on the buses, at lunch and all of the other settings our pupils are involved and engaged.


The school is well known for its world class facilities which complement the educational programmes it offers. Please tell our readers a bit more about those.

You are right– we are incredibly fortunate to have such superlative facilities. We are very excited by our new boarding house, which provides luxury apartment-style living accommodation for those lucky enough to choose the boarding option. Our classrooms are all fully equipped with interactive whiteboards and projectors, and there is further support from dedicated IT suites; two of which are specialist music and design facilities. Our large library brilliantly blends traditional and digital approaches, and is a bright and vibrant space for studying. We have purpose-built, superbly equipped science labs and art / design & technology studios.

Our provision for performing arts is absolutely top quality, from our three large group music rooms and nine sound-proofed practice rooms, and our dance studio, to the unique space of the Black Box and the stunning 450-seat Seldon Theatre- which was the venue for our West End quality productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Bugsy Malone, and in March 2014, the well-known  musical Oliver!

The Sports Centre offers a wonderful indoor space for the ever-popular basketball and badminton, as well as a gym and a heated swimming pool. Outside there are more courts for basketball, netball and tennis, as well as a full-sized astro-turf soccer pitch, a running track and two covered playgrounds. We will soon be re-launching our V&A café, in association with another very well-known, high quality Tianjin partner.


On a final note, tell us about some exciting projects and events that are happening at Wellington during the new school year.

We are delighted to have become a boarding school, with our outstanding new boarding house, The Benson, just outside the school gates. The quality of the accommodation is certainly world-leading, and it is clear already that this new venture is going to be a great success. It should certainly act as a catalyst to allow a more ambitious exchange programme with Wellington UK, as we will no longer have to rely exclusively on host family accommodation, and can run longer immersion experiences for our pupils.

Already full members of the Council of International Schools, we are driving on to seek full Accreditation from CIS over the next year and a half or so. On the academic front we are proud to be joining our partner school as an IB World School, with our Year 12 beginning the IB Diploma. Partly driven by this, and also because we wish to anyway, we will be expanding the role of community service in the lives of the pupils.

Also new to the curriculum for Years 7-9 are Well-Being sessions, modelled very closely on the pioneering programme developed at Wellington UK. We are aiming to develop our school trips programme further, whether it be local Geography fieldwork in rivers north of Beijing, or more adventurous trips to Iceland, or the battlefields of Europe’s two World Wars. We have what should be an excellent Literacy Roadshow in the two weeks leading up to UN Day in October, and planning is already starting for the 2nd Festival of Education, to be held later in the academic year.

Our next ambitious musical has already been mentioned, and to help with all these, and signature events such as our Summer Fayre, we have a re-vamped parent committee called the WCA. Members of this will be able to meet in comfort in the ‘new’ V&A, which is set to be run in partnership with one of Tianjin’s top hotels.

Finally, there are the plans for a range of optional after school ‘academy’ classes, and both residential and non-residential summer courses.

By Josh Cooper
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