We are excited to be adding to our HEAD Space Series and this week we caught up with Nick Magnus, Founding Headmaster of Dulwich College (Singapore) to gauge his views on what it means to be a good educator, the challenges that lie ahead in the education sector as well as his favourite school moment to date. Read on to find out…
Who or what inspired you to get into the world of education?
I was lucky enough to have inspirational teachers myself, even as far back as my primary school years, who were great role models, inspired me and gave me a love of learning. Back then, within my family, all the men were in the military and all the women were teachers. So when I was 16 and told my Grandad that I wanted to be a teacher, he was very disappointed. However, I haven’t looked back since.
Teaching is an opportunity to make a difference and to be in an environment where every single day is different. And the best thing about it is, that however bad your day, you’ll always find some children who will cheer you up!
What was your journey to Dulwich College (Singapore)?
Well, if you look at it one way, I went to school at 4 years old and still haven’t left at 50!
I started teaching in the UK state sector aged 22. In 1998, my wife (Sonia, Deputy Head of Early Years) and I decided to teach abroad for two years. 21 years later we are still overseas! We’ve been very fortunate and have been in the right place, at the right time. We started in Kenya where I became a very young Head, at just 32 years old, at a British International School. Then we went to China where I was the Founding Head of Dulwich College (Suzhou) for five and a half years and then we came to Singapore. I’m in my 8th year here and have just started my 14th year with Dulwich College International.
What makes a good educator?
It’s about having a genuine interest in children and being a life-long learner. You can’t encourage a child to learn if you’re not prepared to learn yourself. And having a really positive, can-do attitude is essential.
At the end of the day, it sounds a bit cliché but it’s so true; this is your opportunity to be the change. It’s important to appreciate just how lucky you are to have that opportunity alongside the respect and trust of the parents placing their child with you
Your wife is also an educator, what are the advantages of sharing a career in education?
It depends who you ask! If you ask my children it’s a massive disadvantage because wherever we are, our children’s constant refrain is ‘will you stop talking about school all the time’! It’s our life, we work here, our children attend the school here and it’s just us.
Sonia and I have worked together since 1998 and the advantage for me is that I have a critical friend who is always here. Teaching is intensely personal and Sonia understands that. When I have a bad day she builds me up and conversely when things have gone really well, she’s the first to keep my feet well and truly grounded.
What are the main challenges facing educators in the next 5 years?
To answer that we need to ask, what is the purpose of education? It’s not just to pass exams and get into a top university. Our job as educators is to prepare young people for life in the real world and to equip them with skills, and work in partnership with their parents, so that they are completely comfortable with who they are, what they are and where they are from. I fundamentally believe that if we can do that, if we can equip them with 21st Century life skills such as resilience, kindness and empathy, then the rest will fall into place. The world will be their oyster.
On a more specific level, if we look back over 20 years we have made significant progress with many issues, such as racism and homophobia. But the one issue which I think we are still a million miles away from is gender equality. We still have a situation where men and women are openly paid different amounts and given different opportunities. However, we are not talking about a minority group, it’s nearly 50% of the population! That’s a big issue.
What has your time abroad taught you about international schools?
I always say to parents new to living abroad: ‘You are giving your children a wonderful gift and you will not appreciate this for many years. International children are inclusive. They don’t see boundaries, or colours of skin or religion. They are so used to being in this diverse, inclusive environment that they just don’t recognise it. It gives them a confidence which they take into life. I have many former students visiting me and it’s the first thing they talk about; the advantage that an international education has given them.
Dulwich College (Singapore) is one of Singapore’s top international schools, tell us what in your opinion makes it stand out?
We are really lucky in Singapore because we have some of the finest international schools in the world. They are all excellent but unique in their own way. They each have their own nuances and their own qualities which separate them and make them stand out. So instead of comparing ourselves to these fantastic schools, we like to look at what makes Dulwich different.
I think what works well for us at Dulwich College (Singapore) is that we were very clear from the outset what kind of school we were going to be, what our values would be and what type of education we would offer. We would be an academically selective school, with a very strong emphasis on Mandarin. There would be a quality, holistic approach and we would be competitive on the sports field and not apologise for it. And we would apply the ethos and values of a British independent school with 400 years of heritage and educational excellence. I think we’ve been true to all of the above and it’s something I am very proud of.
Dulwich College (Singapore) supports the IB programme as well as IGCSE’s. How do you implement the teaching of this qualification within the College?
At Dulwich we run our iGCSE programme over three years. Contrary to belief, this is not about trying to get an A*. It’s about giving students more time to be able to enjoy the subject and go off at a tangent to explore their individual interests. A two year iGCSE course is four terms of content, one term of revision and one term of exams. We’re adding three extra terms so our students can take their time. If we wish, we can collapse the curriculum and have a three or four-day focus on well-being, or enrichment or more. The extra time enables us to teach beyond the curriculum and prepare our students for the rigours of the IB Diploma that follows iGCSEs.
I’m a big fan of it, and speaking with our students they really enjoy it too. They like the fact that in Year 9 they feel more grown up and can choose from a range of exciting subjects. Academically they are absolutely ready for it, so why hold them back.
What has been your favourite school moment to date?
It has to be our first Founder’s Day. This was our official opening back in April 2015 – we still show the video! Around 1,200 members of our community were present along with all the Heads of the Dulwich Colleges and it was wonderful to see the sense of belonging and identity we had created in the College.
If you could invite any three people for dinner, who would it be?
I’d actually have to invite four and it would be the four Heads of House. Ernest Shackleton, an old boy and one of the finest leaders we know; Lee Choo Neo, the first female doctor in Singapore, a wonderful gender equality role model; Amelia Earhart, for her spirit in adventure and Nelson Mandela, for all that he stands for. I would invite them to see the school and tell them what we were about. Hopefully they would approve!
Dulwich College (Singapore) opened in August 2014 and is recognised as a leading international school in the city. We offer a rigorous and supportive academic programme. Our College is academically selective and socially inclusive. The primary language of the classroom is English and to ensure our students receive the support they need, we assess the level of English of non-native speakers.
We encourage you to visit our campus to learn more about the College. Please click here to book a place on an upcoming Open Day or email firstname.lastname@example.org and a member of our Admissions Team will be in touch. We look forward to hearing from you.