Reflections on a move to work as an international school Deputy Headteacher:
One year in post at Senior School Leidschenveen, a new secondary school at the Leidschenveen campus of the British School in The Netherlands
Written by Duncan King
”The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.L.P. Hartley
When I think back to all that has changed since December 2019, this quotation from the opening line of The Go-Between holds particular resonance. Then, the UK was still part of the EU, Donald Trump was president in the US, and the vocabulary of the Covid pandemic (R number, lateral-flow, double-jabbed) was unknown. At that time, however, for my family and me, it was also true that the future was an actual foreign country, and we had a sense they would do things differently there too. That month, I accepted an offer to move from the UK to work as a new Deputy Headteacher at the British School in The Netherlands (BSN).
The Move to an International School
The prospect was an incredibly exciting one for me. The Deputy Headteacher role meant the chance to join a team working to develop a brand-new secondary school campus. This type of opportunity had been very high on my career wish-list; to do so under the umbrella of the internationally renowned BSN made the position impossible to pass up.
”Looking back now, it has been an incredibly enriching year...
The Unique Vibrancy of the School
Since I took up my role at Senior School Leidschenveen (SSL), I have felt trusted and been given the freedom to adapt, innovate and contribute meaningfully to the development of the school. That said, I know from previous experience of moving schools that what works in one context may not work in another, so I prioritised understanding the BSN’s British-Dutch-International setting.
For example, the school has students from 46 nationalities (with more than 80 nationalities across the BSN), many of whom speak two or more languages. New students may join the school partway through a Key Stage or even a school year. This diverse and dynamic nature of our student body is a wonderful feature of the school that gives it a unique vibrancy. Still, for a newcomer, the nuances of how this influences the institution can only be fully understood after working on the inside.
With my awareness and understanding of the school growing throughout the year, it has been a privilege to be involved in a number of key aspects of our development, including the coordination of our first IGCSE exams, the first GCSE options process and timetabling, the introduction of online parents’ evening and the successful application for the candidacy of the IBDP and the IBCP programmes.
Working with a Pioneering Spirit – and Fun
In addition to our brilliant student body, it is important to highlight what a pleasure it has been to work with the teaching and support staff community at Senior School Leidschenveen. The school is blessed with a very talented group of professionals who also have a pioneering spirit that is important in a new school but has also been invaluable in this Covid-affected year. They’ve frequently proven their ability to problem solve, and as a tight community, we work together to resolve difficulties.
It’s also an incredibly fun, sociable place to work. There is plenty of humour and mutual understanding, which helps ease pressure at challenging times and provides a strong esprit de corps. At the same time, it is open and welcoming to new joiners.
Life in the Netherlands: Embracing the Outdoors
Beyond the school gates, living in The Netherlands has been a wonderful experience. For me, cycling is at the heart of what makes the country so enjoyable to live in. There’s also a real (and for me, unexpected) outdoors culture beyond this, with extensive beaches, national parks and sporting facilities that contribute to a high quality of life. It’s also perhaps not surprising that in a country whose children UNICEF reported to be the happiest in the world, the adults are also having a good time!
Looking Optimistically to the Future
As is often the case in many aspects of life, the experience of a first move to work internationally in education can probably only be fully understood in retrospect, when you can finally make out the signal from the noise. Looking back now, it has been an incredibly enriching year, and despite the challenges of Covid, I would change little even if that possibility existed.
One year on, I’m very much looking forward to the year ahead. We’ve another new group of staff and students joining our community now that we’ve grown to four-year groups (up to year 10), and our first full GCSE cohort begin their studies. There’s also important work to do and decisions to be made that will continue to shape the future culture, fabric and direction of the school. These are exciting times, and I can’t wait to see how far we’ve come by this time next year.
Duncan took up the role of Deputy Headteacher of Senior School Leidschenveen, The British School of The Netherlands, in 2020. He moved from the UK and with his family and now lives in Den Haag where he is making the most of life in the Netherlands. Prior to joining the BSN, he worked for 16 years in the independent sector in the UK after switching careers from Investment Banking in 2004.