Following hard on the heels of the grand opening of the Brookes School in Moscow, comes the announcement that Brookes is to open a new school in St. Petersburg later this year. This announcement may come as a bit of a surprise to many who know just what is involved in opening an international school in this country. This is particularly so when one factors in our perceptions of the state of the Russian economy, but not if one is familiar with the story of how Brookes’ large Moscow school was opened on time at the start of this school year despite what seemed to be insurmountable odds, and the commitment to Russia that the school’s management has demonstrated by making large, long term investments into Russia at a time when many investors are checking out their exit pods. For anybody who is at least a little enthusiastic about Russia, this news in encouraging and perhaps reveals that investment sentiment in Russia, when looking at the long term – and education can only be described as being long-term – is still attractive.
The new school is in central St. Petersburg, and apparently equipped with science labs, a music suite, IT room, library, art room and all of the facilities you would expect to find in a school of this calibre. The school is now in the process of being fully licenced to operate according to meet all of the rigorous requirements of the Russian educational authorities. This is an exacting process that Brookes is only too familiar with – having gone through the same thing in Moscow. Charley King, now Head of School of Brookes Russia says that the school will open at the end of this year.
Apart from being a success story for Brookes, this development is also indicative of the growing importance of regeneration in St. Petersburg, something that Muscovites can be oblivious to in our very own, highly convincing form of ‘one city syndrome.’ I asked Charley King, now headmaster of Brookes Russia, why St. Petersburg, and is there really a market for undoubtedly superb education which is, to put it bluntly, not cheap? He answered: “We see a growth market there. Gazprom has moved its entire operation up there. There are large industrial concerns such as the Hyundai production facility. We see the St. Petersburg region as being financially able to support a school like this. We do not have a cap on the number of students of different nationalities attending our schools, and are very confident that the new school, which has a capacity of 250, will be well attended.”When a school, any school, opens up another school, the new school tends to inherit the mission, vision, and style of the first school. Brookes St. Petersburg will be no exception. Charley elucidated: “The leadership team for the school will be the leadership team here in Moscow. Marketing, admissions, finance, HR & Leadership will all be from Moscow…” As in Moscow, the school will offer a complete secondary school education from Reception, age 4-5, right through to year 13, with the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum running throughout.
There are of course a lot of arguments for and against IB, with some educators arguing for the more traditional British or American curriculums and an equal number of educators (if not more nowadays) arguing for the more progressive nature of IB. As anyone who has taught or studied IB (I have) knows, the programme is all about personal development through projects, both individual and collaborative. In Brookes’ case, this means that their Moscow and St. Petersburg schools can work closely on various ideas and projects together. But collaboration between what will really be one school in two locations doesn’t stop there. I was somewhat surprised to discover that children from Year 5 onwards from both schools will go on residential trips to any of the other Brookes Schools around the world (Vancouver, Shawnigan Lake and Westshore in Canada, Cambridge in England, Seoul, Silicon Valley), at no extra cost to parents. This year, Charley says “our senior students will be going on a special residential ‘Royal Etiquette’ course in Oxford to sample fine dining, an introduction to etiquette, a chance to attend a ball, Wimbledon etc. At the same time, another residential field study that is being offered to students will see them travelling to Gambia to help work with under-privileged children, such as helping them build somewhere to live in. We are trying to make our field trips really educational.” The accent on an all-round education where students are given the opportunity to help communities is an integral part of the IB course, and it also demonstrates a healthy pluralism in the vision of what a secondary education is all about by the school’s headmaster, as is the case in all good schools.
Private education in Russia is still in its infancy, with only 100,000 children attending private schools out of over 14 million attending non-state educational institutions in the Russian Federation in 2017, according to the World Education Services (www.wes.org). As long as schools do abide by some very stringent regulations, there seems to be a surprising amount of leeway built into the system, thus making the introduction of innovative, foreign educational programmes, such as IB, which by design is progressive and built on the all-round development of the individual, possible. This can be said to be a somewhat different approach from the more traditional Russian approach, inherited from the Soviet system which concentrated on maths and the sciences, although Russian schools are also developing to adopt to the new environment. One might ask, however, why Russia is allowing such plurality in schools? This was a question I asked Anton Molev, the Chairman for the Committee of State Education of Moscow City Duma last year when making a series of TV programmes about Moscow. He said: “I don’t see any problem in international schools highlighting the deficiencies of the State schools, we get better results when we have the possibility of different kinds of education…”
Whatever one may think about Russia, education is clearly an area that the country intends to concentrate on over the long term, and excel in. The growth of international schools, the employment of comparatively large numbers of professional expatriate teachers, who are all, one way or the other, cultural ambassadors for their own countries, and Brookes’ latest expansion to St. Petersburg, can only be seen as evidence for this. We wish the school every success in its new venture.