Making a difference in pupils’ lives by simply being different, Fairview International School offers a unique proposition to parents who are eager for their children to adopt a worldwide outlook, writes Agnes Stevenson

FINDING a way through the Covid-19 crisis has been a challenge for everyone in education, but at one school a different way of working has helped it to thrive during a time of upheaval.

Since returning to their studies in January, pupils at Fairview International School in Bridge of Allan have notched up 100% attendance. Aside from the odd dental appointment or trip to an optician’s not one pupil has missed a day of lessons.

It is a remarkable figure considering that for much of that time children were learning on-line, but to head teacher David Hicks it is highly significant because it suggests that pupils are both happy and engaged in their studies.

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Happiness and wellbeing says Hicks are the foundation of learning and at Fairview that ethos forms the central approach to a system that is focused on bringing out the best in every child.

Fairview opened its doors just under two years ago and it offers an International Baccalaureate education as a candidate school for the Primary and Middle Years programmes. 

In the coming years, the school is also planning to extend this to senior pupils for whom an IB Diploma is a globally-recognised qualification, but, for now, this approach benefits all from the youngest cohort upwards through IB Primary and Middle Years programmes.

The emphasis in this setting, which there is a policy of inclusion, is on providing a breadth and richness to education, finding ways in which subjects relate directly to real life and making knowledge seem relevant to every-day experiences.

At the heart of the process is ensuring the development of each attribute of the IB learner profile in every child, not only those to which each child relates to most closely.

These attributes are a set of character traits and social motivations, such as ‘communicator’ or ‘caring’’ that reveal how children relate to the world around them and which influence the way in which they approach learning.

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“At Fairview we have an exceptionally strong curriculum but we consider that attributes such as ‘balanced’ and ‘open-minded’ are every bit as important as ‘thinker’ or ‘knowledgeable.’

Behind this philosophy is a determination to support the natural sense of enquiry with which children are born while at the same time fostering a spirit of acceptance of those whose backgrounds or ideas may be different from their own.

“We teach them to recognise that if they are right it doesn’t mean that someone else is therefore wrong. It is about seeing the world through the eyes of someone else and realising that a different perspective may produce a different outcome.”

Hicks, who spent nine years working in the state system in the UK before spending a further 15 years heading up international schools across the Middle East, believes firmly that an international school can give pupils a broad view of the world. “It provides an understanding of a wider value set and the parents who send their children here want that experience for them.”

It also, he believes, has much to teach the wider educational community as it seeks to recover the ground lost during the events of the last year. While the vaccine may eventually put an end to the current crisis, says Hicks, the only certainty about the future is that it will bring more change and uncertainty and so the key to preparing children for what lies ahead is not just fixed knowledge, but the skills to respond to whatever challenges they face.

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“We call these the four C’s – critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. But even these are not enough in themselves. I believe that children also need to learn the qualities of care, compassion, resilience and adaptability.”

It’s a view that has been set out by IB Director General, Dr Siva Kumari, who speaking to TES (Times Educational Supplement) in 2020, said: “Education cannot carry on as before, but must become more skills orientated rather than just knowledge based.”

And within the current crisis, where exams have been cancelled for the second year in a row, may ultimately lie the key to the way forward, a way in which pupils no longer study just to pass exams but instead embark on quest for learning.

“A revived focus on continuous assessment is a step in the right direction,” says Hicks. “The traditional emphasis on a final, one-stop examination does not reflect life beyond schools and university in our modern, ever-changing and currently uncertain world.”

Along the way he would like to see greater importance given to creative subjects and to physical education, which both have an important role to play in helping young people to thrive and he recognises that sometimes, in a world in which a mastery of technology is the gateway to knowledge, it is the children themselves who have become the educators. 

“We have discovered during the pandemic that they are already more skilled in navigating the technological landscape than many of their parents and in some cases their teachers.”
It is a revelation that sits happily within a school that likes to take a fresh approach to learning.
 

International connections offer unique perspective 

FAIRVIEW International School may be relatively new to Scotland, but it is in fact part of a network of six schools, five of which are in Asia.

At Bridge of Allan, as in all Fairview schools, the emphasis is on building a community, not just amongst staff and pupils but also through the involvement of parents in the life of the school.

The international status of Fairview offers continuity for families returning to Scotland after living overseas, as well as for local parents who want a different school experience for their children.

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Later this year  Fairview will also begin to offer boarding places for children in year seven upwards, either full time or on an occasional basis, providing a warm and nurturing atmosphere at a school where pastoral care is already very high up the curriculum.

“We do have leaders in pastoral care but in fact it is implicit in the way that all of our staff interact with our children,” says head teacher, David Hicks.

Once restrictions on movement are lifted then it is expected that numbers at this young school will grow quickly, when families who have had their plans put on hold finally have the chance to move to Scotland. 

“Like so many other schools and organisations, our ambitions to grow the school have had to take a back seat to the measures to control Covid infection, but during this period our team of fantastic teachers has done a wonderful job in working with pupils and keeping them engage in learning.”

As befits its roots in Asia, Mandarin is the second language of the school and every pupil takes lessons.

“We celebrate and develop an interest in international language and cultures, but we believe that Mandarin is a language that is set to become increasingly relevant to the next generation of school-leavers.”