Interview with Mr. Charley King, Director of Schools Brookes Moscow & Saint Petersburg
In a bid to gain perspective on what education professionals at international schools in Russia are doing today to provide global education to their students, Intermark reached out to Mr. Charley King, Director of Schools Brookes Moscow & Saint Petersburg— one of the youngest international schools in Russia.
Q: Hello Mr. King. How are you today?
Very well thank you. And thank you for inviting me to this interview. As an expatriate in Moscow, I have been here 6 years. I enjoy living in this wonderful country and very pleased to share my experience about education, which is a field of my direction.
Q: Do you enjoy living in Russia?
I enjoy it very much. I love city lights and it is a pleasure for me living in Moscow, but at the same time, I like the quieter suburbs of Saint Petersburg as well. I like to visit this city, which is where our second school is.
Q: Your school is young enough but has already become very popular among expats and they have great things to say about your school and the teachers. Can you share your secret with us?
It is a very interesting question. I do not think there is any secret that I could give away in terms of the success of Brookes. However, the one thing I will say is this – the school has a fantastic supportive, caring and guiding board of directors. They have an inspiration behind Brookes Moscow and St. Petersburg. They are pure educationists. They are not businessmen. They, very much, want to make a success of the education instead of making a profit and I think they and our partners, Pioneer Group, are a “true success” behind the story of Brookes in Russia.
However, I would say that having a very good understanding of the Russian education system and how challenging it can be, it is a very useful secret to success in Russia as well. It has taken me many years to understand how to operate as the director of education in Russia, but I am certainly pleased that I know now.
Q: That sounds perfect. As you told us before, you have two schools: in Moscow and in St. Petersburg. Is there any difference between them?
I am going to correct you, because we actually have just signed our third school. So now, we have three schools in Russia. One is the large International School in Moscow, The Botanical Garden, which has 750 pupils. The second is a smaller school, but of equal value in Saint Petersburg, which has 250 international and Russian students. We just secured a first Brookes Russian kindergarten in Moscow for 120 students, which is going to be open in September 2020 under the name of directorship of Brookes.
We are very thrilled that we have three schools now, which is great news for us.
Q: And regarding the kindergarten, starting from what age you will accept the kids to enrol?
As for the Russian education system, the kindergarten is what we call Pre-nursery until Year 2, so it is up to and including age 7. However, the international schools are both from Pre-nursery, which is age 2 all the way through to Year 13, which is when they graduate to go to university.
Q: Where your kindergarten will be located?
Kindergarten will be located almost next door to the International School in Moscow in the Botanical Garden. It will be situated in a very historic cultural building, on the bank of the river and it is a beautiful setting. This building has been redesigned and re-architected for us, specifically to run a kindergarten.
Q: Great. Today in a time of self-isolation all schools in Russia started to use distance learning. How did you manage with these new realities? Was it easy or not?
I think anyone in the world will tell you that it is a difficult situation with the COVID-19.
We were not an exception. We have had challenges, but at the same time, we have had a lot of success.
I was speaking to the Principal of the Upper School Mr. John Downey earlier today about the success he has had in the Upper School with respect to distance learning. As a result, we are going to continue offering distance learning for our seniors from September alongside our inside internal school education.
Now we are very proud of the fact that we worked extremely hard to create the distance-learning package that meets the requirements of our clients. Moreover, largely speaking that has been done by making sure that we offer live sessions: children want to see other children, their teachers and, very much so, children do not want to be left alone with a pack of work to do. They want interaction and that is what education is all about.
So, we feel that we have done a very effective and positive job with distance learning. Now we are reviewing our distance learning as another option of the Brooks brand.
Q: I wish I had a distant learning when I was a kid, especially during Moscow winter.
Yes, some children like it a lot more than coming to school. You are right, but they don’t get all of the things that they get at school. But at the same time, we’ve made sure they receive learning. For us that is an integral part of what we offer.
Q: What qualifications are required for your teachers? What countries are you teachers from?
Our teachers are mainly expatriates from different countries around the world. We have a large number of teachers from England, America, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia – the list goes on and it is quite an extensive number of teachers.
They all come with fully internationally recognized qualifications for teaching and at the same time we rigorously check the safety of our employees that are coming to the school to make sure that they’re suitable to teach in front of children. So, we go through a very thorough process of recruitment. However, I have to say we also have a number of Russian staff in the school and obviously, we value the fact that we have a very international teaching body.
Q: Let`s talk about admissions. How can someone enrol in your school? What documents do you require? Do you hold any tests or exams? Very often expats are coming to Moscow during the school year. So how could the students enrol in the school at the time?
We value our clients very much. We want to get them and their children the best from our school, to appreciate and fulfil their learning potential. Therefore, it is very important that we evaluate the children, who are applying to the school.
From the age of seven and upwards we have an entrance assessment and that assessment will assess their level of math and level of English, because we are a fully English-speaking school.
Younger than that, we invite our children to come into school to spend a day or a couple of days with us, so that we can work with the children to identify any areas of development they need or in fact any particular gifts or talents that they may have as well.
So, the older the children get, the more formal the entrance becomes. They need to pass a certain level in order to get into the school. Especially if they are entering into a diploma program, which would mean that they need to have a high set of either GCSE results or good qualifications from the MYP. So, the process is quite straightforward. We have an admissions department and online application process, and the documentation is explained clearly there.
Q: What is the minimum age of your students? How many countries are they coming from?
The youngest age of the students is age 2, when they arrive in Pre-nursery, and the oldest child leaves at the age of 18 in Year 13.
We have a large number of international students in the school. We have over 40 different nationalities. Some of those, as I call it, a dual nationality: they could be both British and Russian, or they could be both French and English.
Q: With so many children from different countries, how does the school manage social integration without one common language?
One common language is the key to that social integration. Because if everybody spoke their own language we would start to have groups of children, that will not allow us to socialize with each other. So, making sure that we follow a code of using English language is essential, which brings all the students, teachers and administrators together and we are all part of the school.
Q: How many students are in a class? Do you have any proportion of locals and expats students?
We do not have any proportions. What we do have is a limit on how many children in each class and for the academic year 2021 our limits on that class are 16 children for Year 3 and upwards and 18 children in the Kindergarten.
Q: How many local students and how many expats kids are in you school at this moment?
At this moment, we are in a transition phase between the end of the year and the beginning of next year and the enrolment. Therefore, I cannot give you an accurate figure, because we have some students leaving the country and have many new children. We are about to come up to around just over 500 children in the school and I would say that is probably approximately 55-60 % might be Russian and then there is obviously the international element of the student population as well.
Q: Mr. King, we know that your school has extra curricular activities. Could you tell us more about it?
We have a quite a range of extracurricular activities. It would take me about an hour to list them all, but in both the schools, in Moscow and St. Petersburg, which are running at this moment in time, we offer over 40-45 different activities every single week. They run out to school and run at lunch times and they can range from a simple, something like a Book club at lunchtime to something more complicated and skilful, like fencing or ballet or swimming sporting activities. They could be a cultural activity as well or some sort of Club, which tests the brain, like chess. So, a wide variety of clubs and activities that we offer all year round.
Q: I have been in your school once and I saw one activity. It was a school theatre and I can say that it was just amazing! The kids were so involved in the process and I thought I was in a real theatre with the real actors.
We’re very fortunate, especially in Moscow, to have a huge Performing Art Theatre. But at the same time, it’s the approach that we take to learning about Performing Arts and we have an inclusive approach whereby all of the children are encouraged in some way to present themselves, to work in that sphere. The success of the story in performing arts is down to the teachers that we have and the way in which they get their very best out to the children.
Q: How do the students get to school? Do you arrange school buses?
We have very good relationships with the Transport Company, who support us by bringing a large number of our students to the school in Moscow. We don’t have a bus service in St. Petersburg, but the bus service in Moscow is very efficient considering Moscow traffic. Against the children here on time, but it gets the children home on time as well. We have buses, which are specially purchased for the school: some have the logo on the side of the bus and each bus will have a driver on a monitor and a link directly to the parents, so it is all very safe.
Q: What kind of security system do you have in your school? Parents often have many questions about security.
The first thing is to make sure that we have a security team that understands the needs of our clients and therefore we have a security team that speaks English as well as Russian. That’s number one. Number two is to make sure that there are enough people on site able to make sure that enough patrols happen, video cameras are observed and that everybody is checked thoroughly before they come through the school. And we have all of that in place.
The school has a very sophisticated video surveillance system and it’s monitored 24/7 365 days a year. I am confident in the security that we have, including the entry to the school whereby the children must use entry cards to gain access as well.
Q: Mr. King, does Brookes provide additional services or accommodations for children with disabilities?
Our school is set up for children with disabilities and I welcome them to the school.
We have had children in school who have special educational needs as well as physical disabilities, children in a wheelchair, for example. We have lifts and access across the whole building in every respect and I see no reason why we cannot confidently arrange education for any children with disabilities at the school. Obviously, each case is individual and we would discuss those with the parents, but at the same time, we see ourselves as an all-inclusive school in that respect.
Q: Your facilities for people with disabilities was the first thing that I saw when I enter your school and I think you should be very proud of what you are doing. Nowadays Moscow is trying to get more helpful and useful in this matter, so what you have done in your school is magnificent.
We are very proud of that fact too. We installed some additional wheelchair access lips around some of the staircases, just to make sure that we had every part of the building covered and we were very fortunate to have a wonderful inspirational special guest as a speaker, who is also a disabled, Paralympic basketball player; Ade Adepitan. It just shows that we are an all-inclusive school.
Q: It is very important to the parents to be confident in the quality of the meals. What kinds of meals do you provide?
We have freshly cooked on site meals, which are produced by a fantastic catering company with a chef in both schools, who takes great pride in the presentation of our food to our children and great pride in the value of nutrition of the food.
The children are fed three times a day, it is all very healthy food, and we are extremely proud of our catering facility for delivering that as well.
In both schools, we also have an option for our parents – parent café, which supplies healthy foods to parents, who wish to hang around, have a chat with other families and then disappear for the day. So, we have a very good catering service.
Q: Since you have many nationalities in your school, do you celebrate national holidays? Do you hold any special events?
We live in Russia, it is very important to respect the Russian national holidays, and we do. Some schools decide that they don’t, but we as an International School value the country that we are residing and therefore we respect and follow the national holidays of Russia. In every respect, we celebrate them too.
In terms of other national holidays, we make a point of trying to educate our children about them. We will celebrate some, Halloween for example; we will celebrate others, but not all of them, because if we did that, then we would be having a national holiday every single day.
So at times, we choose to celebrate holidays of certain individual countries, but the most important thing to recognize is that we do have an International Day celebration, which essentially celebrates us here in Russia and the rest of the world.
Q: I wonder why I never had a chance to study in such a school. I would be studying 24/7 and I would be so good in all the science. So, the students of age 17-18, who leave the school, need to enter university and what universities the students of your school tend to choose? Do you prepare students for them?
Of course, we prepare our students for university, it is very important. We have a range of universities that children have gone to, from our group of schools and some of them are within the Top 10 Universities in the world. Others are very small universities or colleges that they go to. So, it is a vast range.
We will have our first graduate to leave the Moscow School in two years’ time, so yet we have no graduates from the Moscow school. However, we do have graduates from the St. Petersburg school and they are heading to universities of their choice: this year two of them are heading up to their universities in South Korea.
Therefore, in every respect our curriculum, our learning for the children in Brooks Moscow or St. Petersburg is geared to what they will do at the end of their time with us and that’s to ensure they receive an entry into the university of their choice.
Now alongside that we have also created some very strong links with some partner universities in Moscow. Some of the universities in Moscow have agreed to accept our children with the IB Diploma as their qualification – the first qualification of getting into the university. So, in that sense we’re also trying to change the approach and entrance into Russian universities as well.
Q: What are these universities?
For example, we have an arrangement with the Moscow State University, whereby the children can enter particular departments there with just the IB Diploma program qualification.
Good while to set up, but it means that our children have choices across the world in just then they are not restricted in where they can go.
Q: So, do I understand correctly that your students have no need to pass the Russian State Exam (ЕГЭ)?
For that particular university department yes, that is the case. The diploma is all that they would need.
Q: Mr. King, maybe there is something you would like to say to our listeners about your school in the end?
Of course. First, I am extremely proud of myself, having lived in Moscow for six years, having worked in two other international schools as well. This school is unique. It is not the same as any other international schools and it offers something different to students. It is not only the IB program for which we are authorized now in all three programs in place and fully up in the Moscow school. It is also in progress in St. Petersburg school as well. So, we offer a truly IB approach and an IB learning education for the students here.
I think the school has developed very quickly, but very well and very thoroughly, and the reason I know that, is that we have also just been accepted as full members for the Council of International Global Schools accreditation. So, we’re very pleased to be moving in the right direction providing a very strong secure education for the future of our children.