An interview with the Founding Headmaster

David Tongue, Brighton College Bangkok’s Founding Headmaster, is currently Headmaster of Brighton College Al Ain, which was recently awarded the highest-ever inpection rating given to a school in the Emirate.

Tell us a little about your background and career to date

“I was educated at a North London grammar school, and after graduating from university my first overseas post was at a leading HMC British school in Madrid, initially as Head of Geography and then as Curriculum Director. During seven years in Madrid I worked as a Schools Inspector for the National Association of British Schools in Spain and completed a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership with a research focus on leadership within an international context. My first headship was in South America as Headmaster of the Senior School on the Falkland Islands – a British overseas territory. I joined Brighton College Al Ain prior to start-up and as Headmaster of the College I am responsible for the overall leadership of the school.”

What attracted you to a leadership position at Brighton College?

“School leadership is an incredibly creative, rewarding and dynamic undertaking. As a headmaster, I have always set the highest possible standards for myself, my colleagues, my schools and the pupils in my care. No other leading independent school epitomises this attention to detail to the same degree as Brighton College – from its unique combination of traditional academic rigour combined with an innovative and creative approach, to its legacy of appointing the very best teachers and its focus on the highest possible standards. I was attracted to Brighton because it achieves excellent results in an environment where pupils are allowed to develop their own unique combination of talents and passions, in a kind, respectful, tolerant and supportive atmosphere.”

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David with pupils at Brighton College Al Ain

“I was attracted to Brighton because it achieves excellent results in an environment where pupils are allowed to develop their own unique combination of talents and passions, in a kind, respectful, tolerant and supportive atmosphere”

What have been the highlights of your time at Brighton College Al Ain? What has been your proudest achievement there?

“I have loved every minute of my time in Al Ain. Setting up a successful school from scratch has been a wonderful experience. I have had the opportunity to work with some truly excellent and inspiring teachers and some unique and lovely pupils. Seeing the school grow from an architect’s plan to an incredibly well-resourced campus, welcoming our first pupils, witnessing the excellent teaching and the phenomenal academic progress of our pupils, and becoming the first new school to achieve the highest awarded inspection ranking in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi have all been highlights; however, I am most proud of the fact that we are providing a truly authentic Brighton College education for the children of Al Ain. I am confident that a pupil from Brighton could join us here and find the College remarkably familiar (apart from the heat, of course!).”

What are the two biggest challenges we face in education? How does a Brighton College education prepare children for the world as it is today?

“The major challenge we face as educators is in ensuring that children are given the opportunity to enjoy their childhood. At Brighton College we get to know each and every one of our pupils exceptionally well, ensuring all secure mastery of a wide range of skills and go well beyond the scope of the syllabus. These skills are not limited to one particular subject area, but are vital for their future success and for them to compete in the global economy. We teach our pupils to be literate, numerate and articulate; to write well, construct an argument and debate; to lead, innovate and be entrepreneurial; to be creative and technologically literate and to stand up on stage and have the confidence to inspire an audience.”

What is a Brighton College education? What makes it unique?

“Brighton College has tradition and history but it is not weighed down by this – it is always looking to evolve and improve, it feels fresh not stuffy, it is ambitious, aspirational and modern. The College has a unique mix of traditional academic rigour with a creative and innovative approach to teaching. It is not looking to create a stereotype: the College has a culture of respect and tolerance and looks at each child as an individual, identifying their unique combination of talents and nurturing them to make sure they’re successful and that all successes, no matter how small, are celebrated. However, its outstanding academic results are not achieved through stringent selection criteria, but by inspirational teaching. The College has an innovative approach to curriculum design, offers the widest possible range of co-curricular activities and has a culture of excellence in everything it does.”

“The children at Brighton College Bangkok will be happy, valued as individuals and will have every success celebrated”

How is your family feeling about moving to Bangkok?

“Bangkok is a vibrant, modern and varied city. As a family we have lived across three continents and have travelled widely. This means that we settle in to new locations very quickly. My wife Victoria loves being at the centre of the College and wider community and my children, Harry (7) and Annabella (4), are very much looking forward to making some new friends and the varied experiences that Thailand’s rich culture will bring. Having grappled with the snow blizzards of an Antarctic winter in the Falklands followed by the 50 degree heat of a desert summer in the UAE, it is true to say that we can’t wait to arrive!”

David, with wife Victoria and children Harry and Annabella
David, with wife Victoria and children Harry and Annabella

What are your priorities between now and when the school opens?

“My priority is the recruitment of the highest quality teaching and leadership staff. Our teachers will need to be talented and able to inspire and challenge their pupils. Working in a start-up school demands creativity, flexibility and tenacity. During the pre-opening phase I will be ensuring educational oversight of the development of the College campus to guarantee that our iconic site becomes the leading facility in the region. I will work closely with the College’s Marketing and Admissions teams to ensure that families of children joining the College fully understand the unique benefits of a Brighton College education.”

What message would you like to send prospective families thinking about sending their children to Brighton College Bangkok?

“The children at Brighton College Bangkok will be happy, valued as individuals and will have every success celebrated. They will be given the opportunity to be taught by the best teachers and grow into polite, considerate and empathetic individuals. Our children will develop confidence, be outgoing and will be stretched academically. They will be given the opportunity to develop the widest possible range of extra-curricular interests and become ambitious and successful. Towards the end of their time at Brighton College Bangkok we will assist with applications to the world’s leading universities. As a parent of school-aged children myself, I am acutely aware of the questions parents need to ask before choosing the right school for their child.”

Designing a school for the 21st Century

Darren Coxon, Director of Education, Brighton College International Schools


Slide 1
A view of the performing arts ‘Hub’ from reception

In the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park they display computers from the very earliest models through to the present day. One of the rooms is set up as a classroom filled with BBC Micro computers, one of the earliest mass produced PCs and a common sight in UK schools in the early 1980s. I can remember our computing lessons, creating simple programs with a teacher who on reflection was probably only a couple of steps ahead of us, it was all so new.

How times change. In 1965, Gordon Moore estimated that computer processing power would double every year. Moore’s law has been largely proven correct: our iPhones are now thousands of times more powerful than the ‘supercomputers’ of the 1950s and 60s, and at a tiny fraction of the cost. We now have in our pockets extraordinarily powerful tools that are getting quicker, and cheaper, all the time.

Anyone born in the last 20 years or so has been raised on a diet of digital media accessed through a handheld device. It is worth remembering that Facebook did not exist before 2003, and Google before 1998. We are still in the early days of these new tools, learning how best to integrate them into our lives.

And this is the issue. Whilst we might be still finding our way, our children have grown up using these tools and can’t imagine a world without them. To them, keeping in touch through networks like Whatsapp and Snapchat is completely normal and natural, and the idea of looking in an encyclopaedia for information is just weird. How many of us have been at the receiving end of a child who refuses to give up their phone when asked; only the other week in the UK a supply teacher was stabbed for doing just that. This might be an extreme case but it highlights how ingrained these devices are into children’s lives: MRI scans of teenagers’ brains have even shown an alteration in how their brains work because of the amount of hyperlinked, visual stimulation they receive every day. This isn’t just a behavioural issue.

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There is much debate at the moment about how a digital diet is changing teens’ brains

With this in mind, there are two approaches taken in schools. Some see mobile devices as a distraction and a cause of bullying and so ban them. Others have taken the plunge and are integrating them into lessons and allowing pupils to use them to help with homework. The problem a lot of schools have is that both teaching style and classroom layout make it hard for teachers and pupils to use these devices effectively. A lot of schools have brought in iPads only to find that no one really knows how to use them. I’ve worked with quite a few schools now as an IT leadership consultant and have seen how much everyone struggles to get it right.

This is why designing and building a new school from the very start, as we are doing in Bangkok, is such an exciting prospect, as it allows us to ensure that the spaces created enable learning to take place in lots of different ways and that the technology used truly integrates into those spaces. It’s important that there are still those formal areas where teachers can deliver high quality, inspiring teaching (as this is one of the most important parts of a Brighton College education). All our classrooms will be large and airy, with the latest projection facilities, attractive furniture and powerful wifi.

The learning resource centre
The learning resource centre

But classrooms on their own don’t address the different ways children now learn. There will also be open-plan, flexible learning spaces where they can work at their own pace and collaboratively, and a wide, linking corridor between our school buildings which will serve as a learning resource centre, with links to the outside and a combination of different learning zones. The school is designed to take into account both how children learn best and what they need in order to be successful when they are older: a combination of excellent exam results and the sorts of skills employers now look for. Like Reggio Emilia, we see these intelligently-designed spaces as the ‘third teacher’, enabling our children to learn wherever they are.

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Our senior school showing an innovative use of space

It is also important that we train our teachers to embrace these new ways of teaching and learning. Brighton College Bangkok’s teachers will need to demonstrate both the skills to maximise the potential of mobile technology and the willingness to learn and to adapt to teaching in new, more flexible spaces. One of the advantages of building a school is that we can choose teachers who understand the needs of children today and are prepared to be both teacher and guide; to inspire but also to support increasing independence.

The prep school playground
The prep school playground

The world of the BBC Micro, Sinclair Spectrum and Pac Man has long gone, but the core principles of excellent teaching in a safe and inspiring place are more important than ever. It is our duty as educators to create great schools, ones that enable us to do our job of helping children to learn and grow. Brighton College Bangkok will be this sort of school, and as a result is well-placed to become one of the top independent schools in South East Asia.

Brighton College Bangkok: opening August 2016

150520-PAC-Dusk-ViewThe UK School of the Year 2013-14 will open its third sister school in Bangkok in August 2016.

Our Bangkok campus will open with a capacity for 1500 boys and girls aged 2 to 18. We will share the aims and ethos of Brighton College UK, one of the UK’s leading schools, and will offer our pupils a traditional yet innovative curriculum, marrying the best of what the East and West have to offer. Our avowed aim is to become the leading British curriculum school in Thailand.

Our Pre-Prep School is to open in August 2016, with the Prep and Senior Schools opening a year later.

Brighton College Bangkok bird's eye view
Brighton College Bangkok: bird’s eye view of the iconic campus

Brighton College was founded in 1845, and is one of the leading co-educational schools in England today.

Academic results consistently place us among the top 3 schools for boys and girls in England; provision for art, music, dance and drama is exceptional, and our sporting prowess is nationally renowned. Every year, more and more of our pupils secure places at the world’s most esteemed universities, including Oxford and Cambridge. In 2015 a record 29 pupils won Oxbridge places.

Our former pupils number amongst Britain’s foremost business, professional and political leaders, including Professor Lord Skidelsky, Sir Michael Horden and Sir Thomas Graham Jackson.

Brighton College Bangkok view of the stunning Performing Arts building
Brighton College Bangkok: view of the stunning Performing Arts building

Brighton College Bangkok is a partnership between Brighton College and the Assakul family, whose businesses include the Ocean Group.

Brighton College Bangkok will offer the innovative Brighton College UK curriculum, leading to the award of IGCSEs and A-Levels. Our pupils will benefit from outstanding pastoral care delivered through a traditional House system.

A Brighton College Bangkok education will offer all pupils a caring, supportive and tolerant environment in which they can thrive and develop a lifelong passion for learning. In addition, we will provide access to the latest educational technology and purpose-built state-of-the-art facilities for music, art, dance, drama, sport and co-curricular activities.

Our iconic school will be built in the Krungthep Kreetha area of Bangkok. It will be easy to get to by major expressways, and is around a 30-minute drive from central Bangkok and a 15-minute drive from Suvarnabhumi Airport.

150519-Front-View-How to apply

We understand that choosing a new school can sometimes be a daunting task; our Admissions team will be happy to guide you through the process.

Pre-Prep School (opening August 2016)

The Pre-Nursery (aged 2-3), Nursery (aged 3-4), Reception (aged 4-5), Year 1 (aged 5-6), Year 2 (aged 6-7) and Year 3 (aged 7-8) are all open for entry in August 2016.

Prep School and Senior School (opening August 2017)

Our Prep and Senior Schools will open in the second year of operation; however it is still possible to express your interest now. Year 4 (aged 8-9), Year 5 (aged 9-10), Year 6 (aged 10-11), Year 7 (aged 11-12), Year 8 (aged 12-13), Year 9 (aged 13-14) and Year 10 (aged 14-15) will open in August 2017.

Register your interest online at www.brightoncollegebangkok.com. We can then keep you up to date with the latest admissions information, as well as all developments at Brighton College Bangkok.

For further queries, please email admissions@brightoncollegebangkok.com or telephone +662-512-1872 (landline) 089-009111 (mobile).