As all are now aware, from the beginning of the new school year Yew Chung International School of Beijing will be welcoming Dr Timothy Gray MBE as our new Co-Principal, taking over from Mr Noel Thomas who has served our school since 2014. Dr Gray will be joining us from the Seoul Foreign British School where he has been Principal since August 2006.
This week Dr Gray spent three days at YCIS Beijing, meeting staff, students and senior leaders, attending our school Open Day and getting a feel for school life. We speak to him about his career in teaching, his ambitions for the school – and being awarded his MBE by Queen Elizabeth II.
Please introduce yourself
I am Timothy Gray – or Tim. I’m from the UK but my wife Kate and I have been working overseas for 30 years. We started off in the Middle East where I became Assistant Principal of Al Ain English Speaking School in Abu Dhabi. From there I took a position as Principal of The British Embassy School in Ankara, Turkey and most recently, I have been Principal of the Seoul Foreign British School. I was also Principal of Great Budworth Primary School, Cheshire for six years. My sons, who were born abroad and at that time had never lived in the UK, considered our time in the UK to be “overseas”! They’ve had a very international upbringing.
How did you discover your interest in international education?
Kate and I started our teaching careers in the UK – but only for a short period of time. I was teaching at a school in Berkshire and it was the headmaster at the school who, in a way, inspired me to seek out something more adventurous. He had been a pupil at the school and then, aside from going to university and serving in the war, he spent his whole life teaching there. I remember very clearly that on the day he retired, he was presented with a cheque for £25, a fake gold clock and a Sinclair Calculator. I knew at that point that I wanted to do something different – Kate and I had just got engaged and we wanted to see the world and have some adventures. So here I am now, a life lived abroad!
What are your initial impressions of YCIS Beijing having spent the last three days here?
It’s been quite a whirlwind! Lots of new faces and things to remember but everyone has been most welcoming – including the students. I’m very glad to be here and I’m looking forward to being part of such a good school.
There are three things about YCIS Beijing that particularly stand out to me. These are the extremely strong IGCSE and IBDP results; the unique bilingual programme; and the forward-thinking and innovative Learning Communities. These are great strengths – and in a landscape where competition is fierce, we need to play to our strengths.
What is your vision for YCIS Beijing?
At the moment, I do not have a singular vision. I need to get my feet under the table, and then I need to listen. I need to listen to staff, students and parents and together, we will decide on our direction and forge an exciting future.
It’s worth mentioning that we already have a very established mission from the Yew Chung Foundation – my vision for the future of our school will take the Foundation’s mission as our basis, and draw on our school’s particular strengths.
Please talk about your approach to the school community
In any school, a sense of community and strong relations between staff and families is important. The arts are one great way to bring people together – through music and drama performances, art exhibitions and concerts. We will always continue to push our very strong arts programme, as well as events such as our Global Community Day.
In addition, enabling direct and frequent communication between parents and teachers is essential to the smooth running of a school and the learning of our children. This doesn’t just mean one-way communication from teachers, but opening a dialogue that can continue throughout the year. In my previous school, we established monthly parent meetings. These were an opportunity for all parents to talk to form tutors, subject staff and senior leadership. Generally we hosted the meetings on the school campus, but also at coffee shops for a more casual experience and at parents’ houses. I would like to set up something similar at YCIS Beijing as they’re a great way to enhance our sense of community and listen to our families.
Please tell us more about your MBE
An MBE is an honorary award presented by the Queen or a member of the British Royal Family in recognition of a special achievement or service to the community. You don’t apply – but are nominated by someone without your knowledge. My MBE was for Services to British Education Overseas – specifically to do with how I promoted the British education system in Korea at a time when international education was predominantly American.
Usually the presentation of the honour takes place in Buckingham Palace, but I was presented with mine in Korea in 1999 when the Queen and Prince Philip were visiting. This was particularly special, as there were only four others receiving honours so we had a very personal encounter with the Queen and Prince. My two sons were boys at the time, and the thing that most stood out for me about the day was how brilliantly entertaining Prince Philip was with them – playing and joking, and making us all feel so welcome.
My sons are now both grown-up. One, a lawyer, married just last year and lives in the UK. The other is the Head of Middle Science in an international school in Shanghai!
We are most excited to welcome Dr Gray to YCIS Beijing in August and look forward to seeing how his broad experience and passion for international education shapes our school and community. We are also delighted to be welcoming his wife, Kate, on board as Senior Fellow at the Chor Hang Educational Research Institute, furthering educational innovation within the Foundation.