Meet Mike Walton, Headmaster of Brighton College Bangkok
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
In this edition of Education Matters we caught up with Mike Walton, Headmaster of Brighton College Bangkok to dig a little deeper about his past, how his love of a subject inspired a parthway into education and what he has learnt along the way as a lifelong learner.
How did you get into Education?
Like most 18 year olds I was unsure as to what I wanted to do, but I loved Geography as a subject and so went off to do a Geography degree. Later, I wanted to share my love for the subject and teaching was a good way to do this. I completed a PGCE and went to a secondary comprehensive school in Cumbria for my training, then they offered me my first job. The first 20 years of my career was in the British state sector, mainly in Kent. During that time I was a Geography teacher, a Head of Year, a Faculty Head, Deputy Head and ultimately my first headship.
Tell us about your educational pathway which led you to Brighton College Bangkok
My first move abroad was to a large International School in Thailand as Principal. There was a lot to learn in the independent and international sector, especially a school which was junior, senior and boarding. My family and I really enjoyed our time there. I don’t think it matters what type of school you work in, the principles are the same, whether it is state, fee paying, all through, junior, senior, international, local or boarding. Although it looked and felt different to the schools I had worked in before, the love of the job was just the same.
After nine years there, I was offered the headship in a very interesting school situation back in England, just outside of Blackpool. It was a merger of two historic schools, which had previously been competitors, joining together in a common and united mission. A chance to build something new, but on strong foundations. There was a great community spirit. My family and I experienced the bracing wind off the Irish sea, supporting our hockey or rugby teams in the second term was very different to the heat of Thailand. We bought some very warm clothes!
I was there for five years and really enjoyed it. I would happily have stayed longer, but got a call out of the blue about Brighton College Bangkok. Thailand is a country I love and it was always going to be tempting to return. I had not worked in that type of UK branded school environment before. Again, I saw it as a foundation with history and tradition, whilst creating something quite new. Arguably the best of both worlds.
How does Brighton College Bangkok stand out against other school offerings in Thailand?
Having been away from Thailand for five years, one of the first things which I noticed when I returned was the growth of competition. It is a terrific school with fantastic teachers. The pupils are a joy to work with. Our relationship with Brighton College UK is very strong – we really do share the Brighton DNA. Although the COVID pandemic over the last two years has impacted on ‘normal’ school life, we were very pleased with our recent exams results, particularly the 97% A*/A at A level.
In what ways do you crossover with Brighton College?
One of the obvious things is in governance and management. Our governing body has representatives from Brighton College and I speak regularly with them. Planning is done together through weekly meetings so the DNA factor in teaching and curriculum is shared. Sometimes you don’t need to re-invent the wheel if you have a good model which you can take on board. I think visitors from Brighton College walking around our school, would feel at home.
Can students in Brighton College Bangkok continue their studies in the UK?
Yes, they can, but there is no automatic transfer and they would need to go through an application process. When I arrived here, I sent all our year 12s to Brighton College for a week – they were very cold as it was January – they made friends there, met staff, and attended some of the university guidance sessions. Last year this was impossible because of Covid, but next year we are looking to do this again. It is difficult to do a reciprocal visit to Brighton College Bangkok as the cohort in the UK is so big – however, I am keen for their leavers to consider a gap year working with us.
The Oxbridge and Medicine projects are a future looking model. Brighton College have an extraordinary track record of university progression, both within the UK and around the world. Last year, our own year 13 was our first graduating cohort and enjoyed similar success in university entrance. We were able to utilize the skills and resources that exist in the UK.
What has been your favorite time since being at Brighton College Bangkok?
If I look back over my career, my favorite moments have been seeing my pupils achieve things, whatever they are. Therefore I have to say these first A level results (Brighton College Bangkok received their first set of graduating results in 2021) were a favourite moment because I know what the individual successes meant to each of those students. Recently COVID has been frustrating, as some of my favourite moments would be standing on the sporting touchline or watching a big dramatic performance, or listening to a concert – those moments which catch in your throat and you think ‘wow’. Due to site closure and social distancing there have been fewer of these events over the last two years. Even though we have had the pupils in school for some of the time, we haven’t been able to play in competitions, or been able to fill our theatre for productions. However, in the online assembly today, one of my students made a short video of what she has been doing to provide food for poorer communities in her locality, and that inspired me. It's more about the individual moments of pride rather than those big events right now.
Where is your favourite place in school?
Not my office! When the pupils are here, I like being on the steps of the preparatory school in the morning, when you see them arrive, a quick interaction with the parents, it is very alive. You see the new children, saying goodbye to mum and dad in the morning, you get to see the human relationships, it is lovely. Another place I like is standing in the middle of the senior school building, looking up at the four floors above, there is an amazing buzz from the pupils in-between lessons. I also love being in classrooms where the teachers weave such magic.
What makes a great school as opposed to a good school?
Buildings, facilities and resources create the foundations, but it is really about the teaching and learning. Other heads may say something similar. For me the key is the focus on the individual. Brighton College’s USP, one of three, is to be the best version of yourself. Whilst we value role-models, we want our children to be individuals, I don’t want any of them to feel that they need to be like someone else. I want them to be comfortable in their own skin because this will give them the confidence to achieve all that they can. This ‘be yourself’ attitude is very much at the forefront of who we are. I have been fortunate to have been inspired by many wonderful colleagues and students in all the schools I’ve worked in.
What three things do you need to be a successful educator
I could probably suggest dozens of things but the first three that come into my head are 1) a love and curiosity for your subject – I think if you live and breathe that passion, then it will be contagious to children 2) you have got to really like young people and enjoy their company, even if there can occasionally be challenges. 3) a willingness to change and to try new things.
We are all life long learners and we want our children to be unafraid of change; to be willing to take risks in order to learn. We talk about learning best at the edge of your comfort zone and I believe that the willingness to take risks and to be adventurous should be part of being an educator too.
It is hard to get past the Albert Einstein quote, ‘Try not to be a person just of success, but also a person of value.’ That’s where kindness, social responsibility and accountability come in.
What things do you have on your work desk
This might be predictable - a picture of my own kids when they were young (they grow so quickly). And too much paper – I need to be more organised and file some of that paper away.
I am not the greatest of readers although I like historical novels, fiction and non-fiction, as they take me to another place and I learn from it. I have enjoyed reading about some of the worlds’ great adventurers, for example the Antarctic explorers - Shackleton, Amundsen and Scott, and many others in different times and places. There's the geographical element too, the world is fascinating. I am inspired by those who push their personal boundaries with such an adventurous spirit. As mentioned earlier, we tell our pupils they can often learn best and gain more confidence at the edge of their own comfort zone. There will be opportunities of new adventures for us all...
Brighton College Bangkok inspires academic excellence for children aged 2-18, on an iconic, purpose-built campus in Krungthep Kreetha, Bangkok. Run in close partnership with Brighton College, England's Independent School of the Decade, the school inspires academic excellence with a culture of kindness, confidence and curiosity. To find out more information about the College contact Admissions here.