• Red Dot Consulting

Meet Duncan Stonehouse, Head of School, Bangkok Prep

In this week’s Education Matters feature, we talk with Duncan Stonehouse, Head of Bangkok International Preparatory & Secondary School in Thailand and hear about his journey into education and his passion for the environment and sustainability.

 

Can you tell us about your educational journey and how it led you to Thailand?

I started out teaching in Gloucestershire, UK and worked my way up to a Deputy Head position. While I hadn’t set out with that as my goal, I found I really enjoyed it and felt that I could influence more children positively and profoundly by being a Head. From there, my wife and I took our young family to Abu Dhabi, where I took up a role as Assistant Head of the British School of Al Khubairat. It is a fabulous school, 60 years old, British Embassy school, well-established, fantastic facilities and a great place for us to live with our children. We were going to go for two years, but ended up staying for seven! I left the British School of Al Khubairat to take up the role as Head of Primary at Bangkok Prep and then became Head of School here three years ago.


What in particular drew you to Bangkok Prep?

One of the things that really attracted me was coming to live in Thailand. Our children had been growing up in a very privileged culture in Abu Dhabi. In Thailand, you have the diversity of the impoverished in Bangkok living alongside the very rich. Seeing this daily has helped our family to recalibrate our value systems.


Professionally, the set-up of Bangkok Prep was also attractive. We have a very stable Board of Governors, who are the owners, who have a clear direction of where we want the school to go but are also willing to listen to ideas. When I joined the school and talked about sustainability and the Green Flag Eco-School initiative, they really understood the benefits on offer. As a team of private owners, the school can be very responsive and develop initiatives quickly, and I think the progress of our school has been quite remarkable as a result. Bangkok Prep was the first international school in Thailand to get the Eco-School Green Flag award and we have achieved re-accreditation for the fourth year!


And lastly, it was about having my children as part of the school. Very few people get to literally direct where their children’s school is going so, as a father, I find it very good and professionally, I am very fulfilled.


How does Bangkok Prep stand out from the crowd of other British schools in Bangkok?

While we are well-established, we don’t necessarily come with the brand name of other schools, so I encourage potential parents to look at the evidence of what we do. You shouldn’t choose a school for what they say they can do, but for what they have proven they can do. We can show sustained success, our results and university destinations get better year-on-year. We have a strong senior management team and teaching community who have all worked together for a long time. But I welcome the choice for parents, and it challenges all the schools to continue to raise their quality, and I think that’s a good thing.


What do you think makes a great school rather than just a good school?

It’s about the school being clear about what they want to achieve and explaining that to parents. For us, it’s about authentically following our Vision & Mission statement that we are an ‘outstanding learning community’. This doesn’t just mean our students, but also about allowing our teachers and staff to develop their own professional capacity and encouraging parents to also see that they are a key part of the learning community. But most importantly, it’s about our added-value. We are a non-academically selective school, so it’s not just about the outcome of a top attainment but about how much individual progress that child has made. No matter where the children are when they come to our school, they make better than good progress as an individual. That to me is what makes a school outstanding, can that school cater appropriately for every single student who comes to the school?


Who or what inspired you into education?

I was never particularly academic at school but when I left school I took an instrumentation technician apprenticeship at Rolls Royce in Bristol and then joined the British Royal Navy, first as a reserve and then full time as a diver. After that I travelled the world and realised that I wanted to find a job where I would never be bored, where I could use my sense of humour, my love of talking to people and my technical knowledge of engineering. One day I had this epiphany that primary school teaching would be great. I could be with people all the time; young people are generally very positive and bouncy and I enjoy that. My degree is in geography and sustainability, so I could use that passion to guide as many young people as possible. So it was a combination of all of my passions put into a box and coming out as teaching. I’m never ever bored, I love my job, I can be sad, disappointed sometimes, frustrated but excited, elated, impressed but never bored.


How has the pandemic affected you as a school and as a school leader?

I’m a very collaborative leader, a team player, probably from my Royal Navy background and my love of team sports. So as a leader, when I recruit my senior leadership team it’s a bit like fantasy football! I go out to find people that are different to me and will work together as a team. Our team was in place before the pandemic but it has certainly helped as we all know each other, and how we work well, and I know who has what skills for what job.

As a school we have always focused on high quality teaching and learning and that has stood us in good stead. It is like the analogy of building a plane when it is in flight. Our teachers were already adept at exceptional teaching, but suddenly they had to switch to online and keep the quality while learning the technical side, what works online and what doesn’t. It has been challenging, but we have come through it well because we’ve always had that focus on quality teaching and learning and what is best for the children.


What changes will you make as a school as a result of the pandemic?

One thing we shouldn’t underestimate is the loss of social interaction between children and teenagers and their peers. It’s not just about how much maths they are missing, but about the social aspects that they are missing that we need to be mindful of.

Our Primary School counsellor has now been upgraded from a three-day a week role to full time and we have invested in additional support in Secondary. We need to make sure that we are looking after these children, to address and readjust what we are doing, especially if this online learning continues.


If you hadn’t gone into education, what would you have liked to have done or been?

Sustainability and environmentalism is a passion of mine, so I think maybe I would have been working on the Great Barrier Reef and looking at the coral bleaching or perhaps deforestation. Forget Covid, forget political wars, if the planet falls apart, we’ve had it!

Our curriculum here at Bangkok Prep is tightly interwoven with the UN Development Goals. The younger generation have more insight into the potential problems with our planet and sustainable development problems. They are more aware and passionate and that is a really good thing. People like David Attenborough are hugely inspirational to me and the message is clear, it’s all about education.


Do you have a book recommendation for your students?

Actually, I’m recommending the David Attenborough book, A Life on Our Planet, at the moment. It’s his swan-song, it’s wonderful, it’s so well written and it's written from the heart; written from his journey as an environmentalist and the processes that he went through when he was first filming. There are loads of wonderful photos and he’s done an amazing job, so I would recommend anyone to read that.

 

Bangkok Prep is a well-established British international school in the centre of Bangkok for students aged 3 – 18 years old. We are delighted to welcome new families interested in their child joining our school. To find out more please contact our Admissions Team here.

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