Alumni include Winston Churchill and six other British prime ministers; the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru; and monarchs like King Hussein of Jordan. The school has educated a long list of renowned business and sports figures, artists, actors and so on. Besides the Bangkok campus in Don Mueang district, the UK-based Harrow has overseas campuses in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai. The BigChilli is pleased to present an interview with Bangkok Headmaster Jon Standen, whose wife Suzie is Harrow Bangkok Ambassador.
“We have been in Bangkok 22 years and here in Don Mueang district for 16 years. We were the first of the branded British schools in Thailand. There are more and more international schools opening in Bangkok all the time, but none can match Harrow’s history of excellence, which extends to this Bangkok campus.
“How my wife Suzie and I got here is a good story. I was previously headmaster at Plymouth College, an independent school in the southwest of England. The college is particularly famous for swimming and aquatics. Suzie was originally an accountant there, and also did a lot of work at the college helping our physician and working with the parents. I was headmaster at Plymouth for just under four years, and gained a lot of experience and recognition there for my work.
“Suzie and I came to Southeast Asia to recruit foreign students to study and board at the school. One day I got the idea that when it came time to move another step up the career ladder to a bigger school, maybe we should look for a school in Southeast Asia rather than in England. Suzie thought about it and said ‘yes.’ She likes travelling and she loves this part of the world as much as I do.
“We agreed that when a position at the right school in this region became available we would apply. When Harrow International School Bangkok announced an opening we went for it, and here we are. There were a number of applicants. We were interviewed initially at Harrow in London and the final interviews were conducted here. This was in early 2018; 10 months later, in January 2019, we came to Bangkok.”
“As Headmaster of the school I am ultimately responsible for the quality of everything we offer. I have, of course, a good team to help me. At the top are seven people who report directly to me. They include the head of secondary school, the head of primary school, the director of finance and the director of operations, who makes sure the site is safe, beautiful and well-maintained, and also looks after new building projects. Then I have a director of external relations, who looks after missions, marketing and alumni. Rounding out the team is the director of human resources.
“We have about 200 teachers and roughly 100 academic support staff. We have about 100 general support staff as well, making the total around 400 people. Most of the teachers are British, with a few South Africans, Australians and Irish. They are all highly qualified and experienced.
“There is a great deal of paperwork involved in the job of headmaster, and of course it must be done. But to be honest it isn’t a part of the job that I enjoy, so I try to get out as much as possible to break it into manageable parts. I like to get out and see what’s going on in the classrooms, on the sport fields and in music rooms. I want to get a firsth and look at school activities as much as I possibly can. Of course, I am also in my office quite a lot out of necessity.
“Suzie and I live in a nice house in the school compound, which is very convenient because we don’t have to travel to work and therefore save a lot of time. I get into the office at 6.30am, plan my day and make sure I have all the resources I need for the day and so on. “My wife has the title of school ambassador, and she has a number of jobs to do in this respect, including helping me when we recruit teachers and recruit students who live here. We have now about 130 boys and girls aged 9-18 living at the high quality Boarding Village in the compound.
“Since I am the public face of the school, I have to attend various functions outside the campus. It is important that Harrow Bangkok is represented at certain events in Bangkok and sometimes outside the metropolitan area,” said Mr Standen. When asked how students are attracted to the school, he replied: “A very effective means of advertisement is parents who tell their friends how happy they are with the education their children are receiving at Harrow Bangkok. That’s probably the main reason parents come to ask about joining the Harrow family.
“Of course, we also advertise in various media to keep our profile prominent. Social media is also an important tool these days. Magazines like yours are also very effective in getting the word out about our school,” said the headmaster, adding that he likes to browse through a magazine he’s holding in his own hands, rather than always clicking on stories he sees on the internet. “In fact, I tried online subscriptions to some magazines I like, so I could read them on my iPad, but I went back to the hard copies. I just like the feel of a magazine.
“I don’t have any set working hours – I work as long as it takes to get the job done on any given day. In order to do a good job as a headmaster you must be prepared to work as many hours as needed, and to show up for a great many diverse functions and events that are important for the school. For example, we usually have a lot happening on weekday evenings, like musical performances, and we also have many activities on weekends, sports in particular. Last weekend I was back in the UK recruiting teachers. It’s now been two weeks since I’ve had a day off.”
“The area of Harrow Bangkok is 35 acres. This encompasses state-of-the-art teaching spaces and facilities for design technology, drama, music and sports, as well a sliving spaces for students and staff, plus a lake and well maintained green areas.
“Currently we have 1,628 students. As I mentioned before, 130 students live at the high quality Boarding Village. The rest are driven to the school in private vehicles or school minibuses. We have just opened a new access road from the main road to allow parents to drive directly to the school instead of making turns on a narrow street. This will make life easier for them and for the local residents.
“The majority of our students are Thai, but we have a diverse student body, with around 30 nationalities represented. Children in our school start at the age of three and they can continue with us until they graduate from secondary school, usually at 18 years of age.
“We follow the British curriculum and we also teach Thai language. The older students study IGCSE and A Level material. These are British qualifications and they are a very high standard. Our students can easily get into universities in the UK, the US, Thailand and Australia. These are the most popular destinations for our students.”
Taken with Thailand
Mr Standen said both he and his wife have absolutely no regrets about making their move to Thailand. They both love the Thai culture and friendliness of the Thai people. “We usually cook for ourselves and sometimes our maid cooks, but Suzie loves going out for street food. We eat a mixture of Western and Thai foods.
“We have been able to enjoy a lot of travelling in Thailand and the whole region. Recently we’ve gone to Koh Samui and Phuket and over to Cambodia. We really like living in Bangkok, but you have to pick the right times to go out to avoid traffic and crowds. The weather heredoesn’t bother us, apart from March and April when it does get very hot.
“I love my job and hope to stay here until I retire, which will probably be in about ten years. This is a wonderful school. Suzie loves it here as well. We are having a great time in Thailand. It is a wonderful place to live and work. Hopefully we will be here for a long while to come,” Mr Standen said.