Senior Headmaster's Blog: Felsted in Hong Kong

In November I flew across to Hong Kong for a visit that combined the Hong Kong Boarding Schools' Fair, a Felsted Network event, recording a podcast for the local media, and various meetings and events, before flying back in early on Thursday morning.  First, let me say that this has shown me that pupils who travel long distances to and from school each term deserve a great deal of respect and understanding, because they must find it hard to maintain energy levels when thrown straight into the long days of school!

This was my first visit to Hong Kong, and on arrival, progress through the airport showed that this was a place in which organisation was going to be good.  The lines of colour-coded taxis waiting outside the airport confirmed this impression!  It did surprise me that the taxis were all quite old, as Hong Kong seems like an ideal place to make use of electric vehicles, to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions, especially as most journeys are really quite short.  On my first evening, I was very kindly hosted by Felsted parents, who took me on the Star Ferry across the harbour (in the rain, unfortunately), and also treated me to a 'Shanghai Foot Massage', which seemed to cause rather more amusement from those looking after my feet than I had anticipated.
The Schools' Fair was busy, and Felsted, with its focus on educating the whole person, co-education, and a thriving summer school, certainly drew a great deal of interest.  We were fortunate to be supported on the stand by two Old Felstedians (Sunny Chan and Fiona Priest), who were able to provide first hand testimony of the school.  That evening, I met with Wilson Ho, who boarded in Mont's. Wilson came to Felsted with aspirations to be a pianist, and by all accounts was an exceptional performer, but has ended up as one of the best neurosurgeons in the region, focusing on paediatric neurosurgery.  He reported how the highly driven and intensely competitive climate of Hong Kong had demotivated him, but he had been inspired at Felsted, leading to a voracious work ethic, which he still maintains now, working in three hospitals, and helping to establish a neurosurgery centre across the border in China.
On Tuesday, I was privileged to take part in a Podcast looking at emotional wellbeing among teenagers. I was joined by Tara Bennett (from the Wild Heart Project), who came up with one of the best images I have heard for how to support those struggling with mental health issues.  She said that you don't teach someone to swim while they are drowning.  You help them, and then, once rescued and recovered, you talk through how they might have coped better.  Or even better than that, you teach them how to swim first, so that they will not end up drowning in the first place, giving people the skills to cope with challenges at an early stage.  Tuesday was also our night at the Hong Kong Football Club, meeting OFs, current parents, and even Tom and Lucy Vignoles, former Felsted teachers who are now running a school out in Hong Kong.  It is a fabulous venue, overlooking the Happy Valley racecourse, and it was great to see different generations mixing, and sharing stories about the school.  The idea is that this Network will help to support OFs and Felsted parents, providing a social hub, but also allowing them to benefit from one another's experience on the island.  All parents are encouraged to join the Felsted Network, because we recognise the breadth of expertise that this can provide to our pupils.  

The Felsted Network

On our final day, we met up with a few more OFs, including Eric Chan, who was in Follyfield in the 1980s, when it was still a boys' house.  Eric has worked in the telecommunications industry, and is now taking on a key role with the government in Hong Kong in establishing STEM courses in education, as well as helping to establish technology initiatives in Hong Kong, and throughout South East Asia.  I was also able to take a walk across Hong Kong, and see a little more of the city, with its many high rise buildings, and top end shopping, but also got to see one of the oldest temples on the island, sitting as a little oasis of calm in the middle of the maelstrom, the Man Ho Temple.  
It was a very useful few days in many ways, but it was good to be back as well.  I have to admit that I still prefer an English cup of tea!

Chris Townsend
PS You may have seen the article in the papers' today about a girls' school placing limits at home on the use of mobile phones. I would be very interested to hear any views from parents on this approach to what remains one of the big challenges facing schools and young people today.