Andrew Halls is the current headmaster of King’s College School in the United Kingdom.
Q: What makes KCS such a sought-after school?
A: King’s has a good history, it’s 200 years old. It was founded by the King of England, King George IV, in 1829 and it’s become one of the most sought-after schools in the country. The best independent schools in the UK are well known as the best in the whole world. Eaton and Harrow are famous examples but King’s College School is stronger academically than them. We were fourth in the country for the best A-levels and IB results, of any school including girls’ schools, which are normally very competitive. We were the second best school for 16-plus exams for boys or co-educational schools. We are really strong every year. We have a huge number of candidates applying for each place. People come from all over London, sometimes from outlying counties, to get to King’s, even though we’re a day school. We have children from English, Italian, American and Chinese families. It’s quite an international school even though, again, it’s a day school. But what people always talk about with King’s is the atmosphere of the school. Although the children are doing extremely well academically – over 25% of each year group will go to Oxford and Cambridge universities, others will go to Harvard, Princeton or Stanford – 90% of all our leavers go to their first-choice university, which are all fantastic universities.
Q: Tell us about the pastoral care and co-curricular programmes at KCS.
A: We found in the UK that teenage children are feeling under a lot of pressure, partly because of their endless use of phones and screens and so on. They are very aware of what they look like and what everyone else thinks they look like through social media channels such as Snapchat and Instagram, which are very popular. Children now need more help, I think, through teenage years than they used to need. At KCS, we have a very strong system for that, there’s a tutor who stays with the same pupil all the way through their time at the school and knows their family. If a brother or sister comes along, they’re their tutor as well. It creates a link between the pupil and the school and his family. There are also heads of year, housemasters, a chaplain and all sorts of people who are there looking after the boys and girls.
On the co-curricular side, we think being involved in sport is important as it reminds pupils of the importance of physical wellbeing. We play 18 different sports against other schools and we take all these different sports very seriously. They include rowing, fencing, and all the big English sports like rugby and football and cricket.
The school has produced a number of famous actors – Khalid Abdalla has been in a number of Hollywood films, while Ben Barnes has been in Hollywood films and in Netflix series. They came through our drama department, fell in love with acting and found a richness in themselves. I think it is very important for a school to remember that we are not just saying “you are great at history, go off and do a history degree”. We are saying that you are great at history, but isn’t it good that you play football and that you are also in the school play? And then there is music, which is another enormous aspect of King’s College School. We have produced some very famous musicians and classical composers, but also famous people in the pop world, like Marcus Mumford, of Mumford & Sons, who’s one of the best-selling rock stars in the whole world. Dan Smith, us who only left about 10 years ago, is in a group called Bastille. I was very amused that, about three years ago, Bastille and Mumford & Sons were the most downloaded bands online and they’re both from King’s! For me, music’s important for just giving people that third dimension to their life.
Q: What guarantees the remarkable academic achievements of KCS?
A: I think that’s down to our fantastic teachers. We spend a lot of time trying to recruit the very best teachers. We work hard to get a good teacher-pupil ratio. We do a lot of training of teachers within the school, so no teacher is ever a ‘finished item’. We’re always trying to improve our own teachers to make sure that our teaching is always getting better and this has led to fantastic results. We brought back A-levels and within just three years we ended up with 46% of all grades at the very top – grade A*, while the national average is B. It’s a phenomenal set of results and it’s through great teaching and very committed, very bright children. There are eight candidates for every place we offer so they’re coming in knowing they’re going to work hard and aim high.
Q: Why did KCS choose China as the venue for a new school?
For a long time, the British have been aware that China has fantastic teachers. For example, when I first came to China in 2008, there were international league tables, called the PISA tables, which always showed Mainland China, Shanghai in particular, to be an outstanding provider of education. The UK, however, was often very poor, around 28th in the league tables internationally for its sciences, literacy and numeracy, which was shameful. So, alright, King’s College School is a very special school, not in that sort of category, it was the English ‘state’ or ‘national’ schools that put us 28th. But I could see that we had a lot to learn and thought that China had a lot to teach us.
You have to share things before you bring things and I think we share a deep sense of the value of a good education. The Chinese schools and King’s share a belief in bringing on the mind of each boy and girl. We have a lot to learn from the Chinese, but I like to think that King’s can show how you get even better results out of pupils, and help them turn into even better adults, if you can give them the breadth of activity and pastoral care that we do.