Visit to George Watson’s College, Edinburgh

By Mr. Cheung Richard Siu Ming, Ms Mou Suet Fong Wanita and Ms Tsou Huei Lan Lanny

Creative Secondary School

On Tuesday we each visited our partner schools. My colleagues Wanita, Lanny and I had a marvelous day at George Watson’s College. Heather Wilson, Head of Secondary and my former colleague at West Island School, Hong Kong, together with her wonderful students and colleagues made us felt so welcome. We simply soaked up the tranquil splendour of the College campus and the vibrant and joyous learning atmosphere in classrooms. Other Hong Kong colleagues all had highly memorable days visiting their partner schools. The day’s excitement was crowned by a glamorous dinner hosted by Debbie Birrell, Senior Depute Rector of Edinburgh Academy in their beautiful, 180 year-old oval-shaped main hall. The ambiance and conversations we enjoyed as we sat in lovely round tables felt quite like a Chinese wedding banquet in Hong Kong!

Our school delegation consisted of Vice Principal Wanita Mou, NCS Chinese Coordinator Lanny Tsou and myself, and on Tuesday 26th April we visited George Watson’s College (GWC).

We arrived at the College courtesy of the daughter of Maggie Sproule, the College’s teacher of Chinese, who came to our hotel to collect us. As we arrived, the luscious College grounds outside its entrance was breathtakingly beautiful. The only building in Hong Kong that might come close to matching the grandeur of the College’s building and front entrance is King George V school in Kowloon, but GWC just looked much more elegant and stylish in comparison.

We were warmly welcomed by Maggie and Deputy Head Ian Jordan. When we entered the office of the Head of Senior School, Mrs Heather Wilson, I could sense how much Heather values people as she introduced us to every member of her office team, to her leadership colleagues and to her student ambassadors who took care of us that day. We felt very much at home right from the start of our visit.

As we strolled around the College we were struck by the College’s relaxed yet purposeful atmosphere. Students and teachers went about their business calmly, greeting us with smiles. The corridors and classrooms were well looked after and very presentable. It was clear that the College community really cherished their building and are very proud of the College.

For a good part of our day, the three of us split up in order to visit many different lessons, from English, Spanish and Chinese to Economics, science, technology and drama. We saw many examples of good learning:

  • Stimulating wall displays in Secondary 3 Economics
  • Highly interactive learning of conversational Spanish
  • Innovative use of iPads to enhance script writing and sharing in Drama
  • Secondary 2 English students in a lively discussion “ Do you believe in ghosts?”
  • Secondary 6 IB Diploma English students deeply engaged in considering an exam question – “Freedoms and Social Constraints”
  • IB Chemistry students critically discussing the results of an experiment
  • Secondary 1 Computing students proudly showing their created work
  • Secondary 1 and 2 students actively learning Putonghua Chinese with passion, with clear concise instructions and a variety of materials deployed by their teacher to stimulate learning

We visited the College’s Art School and saw spacious studios and working areas which had such a vibrant atmosphere. There was ample display space to showcase exciting works produced by a large number of students. We saw a broad range of disciplines being practiced – including photography, fashion, architectural design – alongside visual arts. Junior GWC students frequently visit the Art School to see displays of senior students’ work, and this naturally paves the way for a strong uptake of Arts as they enter the senior school. I took the opportunity to share some of our school’s Visual Art work with College colleagues – the arts might well be an interesting exchange focus for students in both institutions.

In the course of a very busy day, we had some initial discussions with Heather and her colleagues Ian and Diane over lunch.

GWC and CSS are IB World Schools, and both of us offer the IBDP Chinese Language B course. Right away there is common ground for sharing good practice, especially since the two teachers concerned Lanny Tsou and Maggie Sproule have established such good rapport.

Interestingly, our respective experiences of offering the IB Diploma Programme have been quite different. At GWC, a good majority of students and parents are very content with the Scottish curriculum and the clear pathways into tertiary education that Scottish examinations offered. The IB Diploma as an option has so far been taken up by a relatively small number of students. In contrast, at CSS, some students are not sure about the benefits of the relatively new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education, and a majority of students preferred to opt for the IB Diploma because of its international reputation as a mature and high quality qualification. While GWC and CSS both offer more than one Diploma, we face almost opposite challenges.

Overall, we had a very positive experience and gained a great deal from this visit. GWC is truly a great school. Heather’s warm hospitality and her very capable deputies have made a deep impression and we are keen to further develop a purposeful partnership.

During our visit, GWC Principal Mr Melvyn Roffe was with the College bagpipe band in Japan, so we very much look forward to meeting him on a future occasion. We also learnt that Mrs Wilson will be retiring at the end of this school year; we are therefore looking forward to establishing contact with her successor at the start of next school year.  It is our hope that our initial visit and the very warm welcome we experienced at GWC will bear fruit in the months to come.