Local Feel, Global Outlook

Katherine PeachEducation, Featured

We had a chance to ask Dr Gerard Griffiths, Principal of Westbourne School, how a global approach to education can make a huge different in children’s education and development. Although situated in the heart of Penarth, it’s clear to see how Westbourne School celebrates its own international culture and harnesses it to support student’s education. With impressive rankings in school league tables, ‘excellent’ grades from Eystn inspections, and an impressive alumni of students, we wanted to find out how an international approach to learning has helped put Westbourne’s best foot forward.

Could you tell us a little about how Westbourne uses educational programmes for a global audience?

I know it is the expectation of all schools to encourage their students to be global citizens, but at Westbourne we allow out children to live this experience on a daily basis. We have about 25% international students from all over the world studying alongside students from throughout Penarth, Cardiff and the wider Vale. We draw on all their experiences at every opportunity to enhance the education of all our school community, as well as creating many international links across the globe.

Just recently, the school council were keen to find out my ideas for the school eco-policy over the next few years, and part of my response was to continue to enhance our own local ideas with unique initiatives from different countries. Such international pro-activity, not only improves and further develops incredible links to our global community, but encourages our families to communicate more with the school, as well as promoting us around the world. Listening to our international audience encourages respect and highlights we are a school that gives children a voice from any continent.

What is it about Westbourne’s international students and culture that makes all your students flourish?

Following on from the latter points, as we promote a culture of inclusion on a global level, our students feel comfortable in sharing ideas and stories from their own part of the world. I have consciously stressed the importance of students becoming global citizens before they leave us for the universities of their choice- but these are not merely words, we can example this by so many examples. However, the graduating IB Diploma classes remain friends for years beyond their time with us, which is a testament to the great community we encourage here.

Could you give our readers an overview of the International Baccalaureate programme, and what programmes you offer at Westbourne?

The IB Diploma programme is an academically demanding international curriculum, that is specifically designed to develop the key skills required for university and the workplace. Critical thinking skills, leadership development and the discipline to write research essays is taught, alongside six subject choices, developing subject breadth and depth. Offering students independent learning in a global context and an experience that will stay with them forever, the Diploma is highly regarded by top universities across the globe.

Could you tell us some of the wider benefits the IB programme offers students, compared to other qualifications? Are there any benefits that are no mentioned or considered?

Developed by educators specifically with university entry in mind and free from political influence, the IB Diploma offers our students a fully balanced curriculum which beyond the academic specifics provides them with something fundamental for success- resilience, with the confidence to know they both belong amongst a global community and can succeed in any academic environment.

Could you tell us some recent success stories from some of your students who have competed your full IB Diploma programme?

Our students surprise me constantly, but the best stories are part of their incredible journeys through the two year diploma. There are numerous examples that show how initially shrinking violets grow in both resilience and confidence to become head boys/girls. Others who excel in areas they did not think possible and take an alternative route to incredible success. Our head boy last year arrived from Tirana in Albania two years ago. English was his second language and he chose French, he excelled so much, he was torn between medicine and Modern Languages. Instead, he decided to apply to Montpellier University to study medicine through French. An incredible achievement, but highlights the confidence, challenge and opportunity the diploma provides.

Having 90% of our IB students graduate to Russell Group universities must be a huge achievement. What goes into achieving a stamp of approval like this? Why do you think many universities want to see a Baccalaureate qualification in a student?

The IB Diploma itself allows our students to present themselves at interviews with, not only incredible confidence, but captivating because they can talk of what they HAVE done, not only what they WOULD do. Our head boy two years ago, spent his summer between lower and upper sixth over in Germany in a university, studying an aspect of Physics he was keen to investigate further. On his own fruition, he applied to a professor at the University of Cologne, to spend his summer in his department- the professor was so impressed by his letter that he was invited to spend three months with him. He returned to school, having no only researched with a PhD group, he also learnt German too. Experiences like this are common practice- and shows why admissions departments are keen to listen to IB students.

What would you say to parents and students who are thinking about the IB programme?

If families are keen for their sons and daughters to be challenged in a climate of global citizens, developing skills that will not merely get them into the best universities, but provide them with an incredible resilience. As well as an advanced skill set, that will proper them confidently to the next stage of their career. Then i would encourage them to explore the IB Diploma fully.

Congratulations for achieving Number 1 rankings in the UK School League tables for the past 4 years! What do you think make Westbourne stand out from other schools?

A clear and simple ethos, an exceptional sense of school community and a committed long term plan.

You must be proud of the team that works in Westbourne- is there anything that the Westbourne team has achieved in particular that stands out to you?

I had a clear focus that everyone has brought into- consequently we have a school community that has moved forward progressively and successfully together. As a leader, that is all you can ever ask of the team of staff, hard-working students and incredibly supportive parents and families.