Mougins School on the Côte d’Azur
Situated on the Côte d’Azur, Mougins School welcomes students aged 3 to 18 years and teaches the British curriculum, adapted to international students. Mougins is part of the Globeducate family, a network of 55 premium international schools and online programmes educating and preparing students to become global citizens. We talked to recently appointed Headteacher James Wellings, whose experience ranges from voluntary work in a primary school in Zambia to senior management positions in international schools in Monaco.
You have a vast amount of experience in the education sector – what drew you to education in the first place?
At the age of 18 I decided that I wanted to do something a little different to my peers and not go straight to university. I volunteered to work in a primary school in Zambia and spent a year working and travelling around southern Africa. It was a great experience that exposed me to the joys of teaching and to the discovery of different cultures. At the school I taught in the classroom, developed sports teams and threw myself into every aspect of the school. I loved it! To be honest I’ve never really looked back and have enjoyed teaching and leading in schools ever since.
In your opinion what makes a good school?
Great schools are full of brilliant, reflective and excited people. The adults and children in a great school care about what they do, are willing to try new things and develop existing skills. Students should have a wealth of opportunities to discover their passions and inform their futures but should also learn how to struggle, develop resilience and recognise themselves as part of something bigger. A great school feels like it has a purpose, a direction and an agreed set of values. It has simple and efficient processes that help learning to happen and not to get in the way of it!
How important is a school’s identity?
I think this is crucial. A school has to know it’s own identity. This means that all members of the school community should understand what the vision of the school is, what values we should uphold and what we believe great learning looks like on our campus. Education is both wide and rich with regard to approaches and opinions. Perhaps unlike any other area of life, every single person has an informed view of what education and schools should be. Everyone once went to school! It’s therefore impossible to please everyone and we should not try to. This just leads to dilution and frustration. Instead schools should decide on their identity, embrace and celebrate and work to become the very best at what they do, the way they do it. This is certainly my hope for Mougins.
You are a History teacher and your new position at Mougins is a leadership role. How important is it for you to continue to keep a foot in the classroom?
Extremely important. I will always be a teacher and I enjoy it! It’s also important that school leaders remember what classroom teaching is like. It’s not an easy job to do well and it does us no harm to live it a little each week. I’ve found it allows for better decision making and it keeps me in touch with students. I also enjoy trying to teach in new contexts and am proud to say that I have gained experience in classrooms from 3 year olds to 18 year olds.
The school offers a British curriculum adapted to an international community. What does that mean exactly?
Essentially it means that we are inspired and influenced by the British approach to education but not tied to it. This allows us to take what we feel is best and then adapt it to the international context that we are in. Perhaps a good way of explaining this is within my own subject History. The British approach to the teaching of history is skills driven. We want children to develop higher order thinking skills such as critical analysis and evaluation. However, in the international context we may choose a broader curriculum than just an anglo or eurocentric one. Another example is that we deliver IGCSE and A level qualifications. These are British but recognised as a gold standard of academic achievement around the world.
What is the admissions process and are there any entry requirements for new students?
A rolling admissions policy gives parents the opportunity to apply and enrol students anytime and well in advance of the planned start date. This provides families with the greatest flexibility if you are relocating to the South of France for example, as it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be arriving just in time for the new school year. We may have conditions for entry but they will be more focused on whether a student is ready and prepared to join our community, rather than on any academic achievement. We are very proud to be an inclusive school.
An international school like Mougins will undoubtedly have a number of third culture kids. How can you help these students to feel rooted for the time they attend the school?
I’m glad you have used the term Third Culture Kids. It is relatively new but has become much more well known in the last 5 years. All international schools have students whose background and life experiences make it difficult to know exactly where they come from and what culture they belong to. Parents can be from different countries and globalism means that kids will have often lived and attended school in places that span cultures. As a school we understand this and know that it is both something to be celebrated and supported, especially as students hit puberty. Conversations, reflections and study on interculturalism as well as a supportive and values driven community go along way to making sure all students feel a sense of belonging.
As a school which prides itself on respect and integrity, we want every student to feel at home, whether they’e been with us a decade or a day. That’s why, when you apply, we’l find out as much as we can to help the student settle into a happy and productive learning environment. Obviously we have academic differences and that’s why we work a lot in small groups of levels, so that all children can progress at their own pace.
With so many different nationalities, how do you ensure a sense of community within the school?
The melting pot of over forty nationalities also plays an important role in the education of our students, breaking down barriers, teaching respect and tolerance to a generation which will shape the world to come. We believe that all children should develop a high degree of intercultural competence that will serve both them and wider society well in the future.
How active is the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and how important do you think it is?
We are very lucky to have such a strong parents’; association involved in our projects. The PTA currently hosts different events, and a series of talks, conferences and activities designed to provide parents with information, training and advice about their children’s education and development. Unfortunately with the health situation and covid, many activities could not take place this year, but we know that we can always count on them.
What 3 words best describe Mougins?
It’s actually very hard to stop with only 3 words especially because we are working with the Mougins community (parents, students, teachers, staff…) to establish 4 values that are very important to us. Everybody takes part in defining these values and then we will embrace them together. We are finalising our four at the moment and are down to the final five of Respect, Learning, Integrity, Teamwork & Community!
Photos: Caroline Cuinet Wellings
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