Ditching Dulwich College to take up the headship at Discovery Bay International School, Stuart Bridge is looking to blaze a new trail. Elizabeth Kerr reports
Ask Stuart Bridge, the new headmaster at Discovery Bay International School (DBIS), what inspired him to work in education and his reply is quick and firm. “Children… I thoroughly enjoy working with children. For me, it’s the best job in the world.”
Teaching is a calling, and when DBIS sent out a clarion call for a new leader, Stuart, a native of Derbyshire and an economics graduate from Liverpool University, was immediately drawn to the school’s child-centred, community-based ethos. “I was struck by the strength, the friendliness, the happiness, the inclusiveness and the positive involvement of the DBIS community,” he says. “The children are happy at the school and have a strong energised spirit with a sense that anything is possible.”
Of course, that was months ago, long before Hong Kong entered into a protracted period of turbulence. But fortunately, Stuart is familiar with the SAR’s ebbs and flows. “Over the last 25 years, my wife and I have visited Hong Kong on many occasions(my brother-in-law worked at West Island School for 15 years), and for the last six years Hong Kong has been our choice holiday location,” he explains.
The “50 very, very soon” reformed accountant (he started his career with KPMG) was drawn to education when he first be camean uncle and a godfather. Realising teaching was his true calling, he enrolled in Hull University for teacher training. It was there that he met his wife of 24 years, Louise.
Still, Stuart and Louise are technically newcomers: they’ve been living in Discovery Bay full time for just two months. “We have settled into DB very well – everyone has been very welcoming and friendly,” Stuart says. “Our dog is loving the more relaxed lifestyle and the beautiful walks.”
The couple relocated from Suzhou, where their two sons, 20 and 21, graduated from Stuart’s last posting, Dulwich College (DCSZ). After six years in China – he joined DCSZ in August 2013 as head of senior school and became headmaster in 2017 – Stuart was ready for a change and a new challenge. Louise, an English, German and French language teacher, is evidently ready for a break. She’s taking what amounts to a sabbatical.
Leadership goals Stuart officially took the reins of DBIS at the beginning of August, and he says he was drawn to the way the 37-year-old school “operates with a level of professionalism, expertise, knowledge, confidence and experience that immature schools lack.”
Despite being the educational vanguard in DB, founded in 1983, with fresh competition now coming from elite ‘brands’ like Harrow and Malvern, DBIS has its work cut out for it, if it’s to stay ahead of the curve. It needs a trailblazer in the big chair. Given his leadership experience at DCSZ, and at a host of other top UK and international schools, including Tanglin Trust School in Singapore, it’s clear Stuart is the right man for the job.
There’s no doubt that academic excellence will be high on Stuart’s agenda at DBIS, just as it was at DCSZ. In July 2018, his International Baccalaureate students celebrated an average points score of 38.8; “a record best ever for the Dulwich group and one of the highest averages in the world.” At DBIS, however, Stuart is looking forward to the opportunity to furthering students’ academic success on his own terms. He’ll be steering his own ship, without having to adhere to a “centralised set of values and culture, driven by a very different school in a different part of the world for children with very different interests and needs.”
Academic results aren’t everything, of course, and Stuart places equal import on extracurriculars that will ensure DBIS students are prepared for the world they’ll be graduating into.
“Given the strength of the community and our location, I passionately believe that we can become world leaders in terms of wellbeing and experiential/ outdoor learning,” he argues. “DBIS prioritises whole person education. Our students need to be well-rounded global citizens, who are well-equipped to deal with future challenges.”
“Tomorrow’s world,” as Stuart calls it, is already looking radically different than the one just a few years back, and the global push for representation and inclusion is playing a major part in that sea change. Will DBIS be nimble enough to respond to shifting student concerns?
“One of the things that attracted me to DBIS was how the individual child comes first, rather than children being forced to fit into a particular school brand’s way of doing things,” Stuart comments. “I think DBIS is inclusive and I’m proud to share with you that our students have just introduced ourfirst Pride Club.” Indeed, DBIS’s kids are doing better than the rest of Hong Kong on that front.
No matter which way you cut it, Stuart is taking over DBIS at a time when education seems more crucial than ever – and in many ways more exclusive. “The thing that really saddens me most about education is that those who need it most, often can’t or choose not to access it,” he laments. “Children get one go at this and it is a real shame.”
To ensure that DBIS students’ ‘one-go’ at through-train education is enriching and productive, Stuart is determined to raise standards across the whole learning programme and increase therange of opportunities available outside the classroom, while maintaining DBIS’ inclusive ethos.
“Given its location and strong community, DBIS is in a fantastic position to continue to progress and move forward,” he finishes. “It’s a great school and I am immensely proud to be headmaster here.”