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Roland Martin - Issue #35


Roland Martin

November 15 · Issue #35 · View online

Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London; Chair - Society of Heads - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

‘Hong Kong has created one of the most successful societies on Earth.’ HRH the Prince of Wales (1948-)

Starting in Hong Kong
This time last week I was in Hong Kong. I inherited what had become an Annual trip for Freemen’s leadership team when I joined the school, and to be frank, two years ago, I was a little sceptical about the need for it.
My questions were: Why stick with one country? Why target Hong Kong alone? The roundabout answer to both of these questions is that we won’t be doing that, in the future. We are diversifying and reaching out to a variety of different countries to look to change the makeup of boarding at Freemen’s. We did this at my last school too - welcoming young people from a variety of European countries, from both mediterranean and baltic countries alongside Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Russian students as well as promoting boarding to local families, too - making a truly international community. Ironically, a huge number of my Fifth and Sixth Form boarders at Rendcomb came from within only a fourteen mile radius: they just wanted to be with their friends.
Nonetheless, to give some context to the set up as it has existed, there is a massive market for Hong Kong parents to consider when wishing to secure a British education for their children. Economically and aspirationally, we deliver what they want. However, the message we heard loud and clear from parents whom we met out there was that they would prefer smaller numbers of Hong Kong Chinese students in schools too. They are looking for a British school with students from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Having capped numbers for next year’s Hong Kong intake, we are of course pleased that this decision has been well received out there.
So this trip involved my colleague, Richard Dolan and me in three different functions: first, interviewing prospective students for entry in 2017; second, meeting Hong Kong alumni; third, meeting current Freemen’s parents.
Meeting the alumni was heart-warming. I was struck by the loyalty to the school and the kindness which these young people showed to us both. One notable alumnus turned up in his school ‘hoodie’ (‘Leavers 2010’), which made us all smile.  Their number was drawn from a ten year period of 2003-2013 students. 
Striking was how hard these young people work out there making their futures in Hong Kong. They spoke of the strong pull to return home after studying in Britain - many staying to take degrees in London and beyond - to remain loyal to their parents and families, and to get on to the housing market there, a definite difficulty for millennials in a place with such expensive living costs. The housing crisis in Hong Kong is well documented and like many countries in the world, there is an ever-growing gap between those who have and those who don’t:
Hong Kong Housing Crisis - Shoebox homes
Studying costs, too, have an impact on our alumni. Having a degree alone is not regarded as sufficient so many opt for a Masters (at least) to make them more attractive in an ever-competitive job market.
Striking too was the pervading sense of community amongst these young men and women tied together by an invisible thread - the education which they received with us, in KT21, living together in a strange country, in a boarding community.
There’s a hashtag doing the rounds at the moment #iloveboarding. It will come as no small surprise that I’m a fan of boarding. I’ve spent twenty-two years in boarding schools, man and boy. There’s much to be gained from the independence and resilience which boarders gain when well looked after and well supported in a caring, fulfilling environment. 
I love boarding
I boarded from 11-18, and although there were plenty of downs to that experience - this was the 80s! - there is a great deal that I learned from experiences which have forged something in my boarding peers and me. Looking back, I can see that there was a tangible need for me to board, to access male role models not available in my childhood, to change track; but for all of us, a certain gritty determination was gained. Plenty of friends didn’t board at school and talk of the shock of getting to university, living away from home for the first time, not just practically, but emotionally too. A school like Freemen’s can bridge this gap.
Boarding for all
We are not looking to turn into a full boarding school overnight (or indeed at all) but we are planning to enhance what we do already and to offer something different for our sixth form as we develop Main House. In a recent letter to parents, we revealed plans which we’ve been cooking up for a few months now - it is often the case that much is going on behind scenes which we cannot reveal, as Heads, until all is governor approved. I’m thrilled that our governors are continuing their commitment to further site development for the greatest benefit to our students and have approved the repurposing of Main House as a Sixth Form centre for excellence. Of significance is the decision to take a little boarding back in to that building … we will provide a sixth form boarding facility for short term stays in order to allow local day students to experience life away from home for a week or two at a time in an environment which is familiar to them. They will be able to take a little more independence in managing their time, they will be able to plan their own meals and do their own laundry. We feel that this is an essential opportunity to offer, and a responsible one at that.
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