Bahrain: St Christopher’s School celebrates its 60th anniversary

Gulf Insider speaks with Dr. Simon Watson, Principal of St Christopher’s School, as they celebrate their 60th year anniversary.

Dr. Simon Watson gives Gulf Insider some insight into St Christopher’s School past, it’s present, and its visions for the future.

St Christopher’s School is celebrating its 60th year anniversary. Are there any traditions that the school has carried on since its beginning in 1961?

The biggest tradition is providing high-quality education for the students. That’s been important right from the very beginning. It was established and set up to provide education for expats living on the island. As time went on, the school moved from strength to strength, and consolidated the Infant and Junior School in Saar and Senior School in Isa Town.

We are rooted in the community; we’ve been around for 60 years and have strong connections with Bahrain. We are making sure that we give back to the community by providing help and support in different ways. We hold different events at the school, like charity events to help and support other schools in Bahrain, as well as those who are less fortunate. The students really get involved and it’s a big part of the school. So big, that we’ve made it an essential part of the curriculum.

What we’re trying to do is identify elements of service, both inside and outside of Bahrain. I think the biggest key is making sure that you keep a good quality staff. The staff at St Chris are proud to work at the school. They are very involved during COVID – which has been a huge issue for everybody on the island and in the world. But even prior to that, they really give 110% and I think making sure that we have a high-quality, dedicated staff is what has enabled St Chris to move forward.

We have a very strong set of governors as well, and they’re fully behind the school and want the best for the school. They give so much voluntary time to the school to make it move forward – not just now, but over a long period of time. It’s that sort of commitment from the community that makes the school what it is today.

What makes St Christopher’s School different from other schools in Bahrain that offer the British curriculum?

We try to involve the community as much as possible. It’s been very difficult during COVID to do that. Prior to COVID, there were many school events that we would get the community to come into, whether it’s the festive fair or music events or sporting events.

We also try to give students a whole range of opportunities. There are so many things on the normal school year that happens at St Chris where there’s 30 different trips going overseas and so many sporting events that take place.

We’ve got a very big reputation for music. The Young Musicians of the Gulf is probably the premier music festival that happens in the Gulf region. It was initiated and maintained by St Chris to have those high-quality events, whether swimming, music, or drama. We put on some fantastic musicals in the past and will continue to do so as soon as COVID ends.

There are wide-ranging opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom. If you look at our post-16 education, for example, we offer A-levels, the IB diploma, and B-Techs – I’m not aware of any other school on the island offering such a wide range of opportunities for post-16.

We offer a lot of GCSEs for students to choose from and we get very good academic results. I think that’s what makes us stand out from some of the other schools – the range of opportunities that we offer to the students, whether it’s debating or drama or music or art or sport. The trips and expeditions that we offer are really phenomenal when you look at it.

The school received several ‘outstanding’ BSO accreditations over the years and recently gained the ‘Gold Standard’ rating – what difference does this make?

It makes a big difference to the school and the way it feels about itself, as well as the wider community, and the people in the school. It’s very pleasing that the hard work of the staff and the way in which we structure things in the school, have been recognized. Not just the teachers, but everybody. It’s a whole team effort that pulls the school together.

To have that recognition is important for parents and makes a difference for students because they get the confidence that what the school is doing is excellent and has been recognized. They get the confidence that we know what we’re doing, we’re doing the best we can to always make things better.

To get an ‘outstanding’ BSO accreditation in every single category is a big achievement, but to do it for three consecutive BSO inspections is very few and far between in the world. Recently, the school was ranked in the top 100 schools in the world with Spear’s Schools Index ranking.

Tell us about your Student Voice and the role it plays in helping the school progress towards its values and vision.

Student voice in any school is really important. It’s important to listen to them. We have student councils both in the primary and senior schools, and we have a student leadership team in the senior school as well. They will speak to the class that they represent and then bring and discuss any issues with the staff and move forward with solutions. During COVID, for example, we did many surveys of the students about their well-being and mental health to see how we could support them. We also did surveys of their learning and how online learning was going and what we could do to improve it. We do these not just with students, but with the parents too. We try to get an understanding about where the school is at with them and what we can do to improve.

We take the student voice seriously.

What special actions does the school take to educate and mould their students into future leaders?

For leaders of the future, we have to look at the values that people have. What we try to do is model good values in the school. We have caring, honesty, and mutual respect as the core values. There are many other values that we try to impart to students from nursery all the way up to year 13.

We have the academic, metacognition, service, well-being, enterprise, and digital – these are the six elements of our curriculum that we’re developing now and trying to highlight as we go through the year. We believe that these six elements will really enhance the students’ opportunities later and that they will provide them with a holistic education that is required to become a leader in society.

What long-term plans are you currently working on that will change the school in the coming years?

The development of the curriculum is huge and takes a long time to do. We’ve developed a bespoke software platform that the teachers are now using to try to identify the six elements that we’ve highlighted before.

We’ve got these competencies, whether metacognitive or digital, and they’re going to be highlighted by the teachers and explicitly taught in the curriculum. We’re going to teach them skills in a way that we haven’t explicitly done before, and bring out a lot of aspects of the curriculum. It very exciting, but it’s going to take time.

We’re developing professional portfolios for the teachers. As I alluded to before, looking at the growth of teachers really builds on research. Our other longer-term issues will be to do with trying to bring the community together. This year is a big year, for the 60th year celebration of the school, we hope that we can bring the community back together and pull the school in as one unit. It’s been a little bit dispersed, sadly, because of COVID.

Do you see any other challenges or opportunities with regards to how education and technology is changing?

I think with COVID, people can see that you can teach online, that you can learn online. Conversely, they also see the value of the schools as well, because at the moment, the Bahraini government has given parents the choice of their child being remote or going back to school. We have about 99% of the students back in school. So, it demonstrates what the parents and students think is important and what the school thinks is important as well. I think you do learn better if you’re in school. Having said that, there are opportunities for online teaching. As a school, this is an area that we’re looking to develop. We’ve got this pilot project with the online GCSEs and I can see a blend of online learning within school learning happening in the future.


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