By Nick Gilbert – International School Parent Magazine
I arrive at Geneva English School to find that it is the school’s annual pyjama day. True to the school’s ethos, Tim is clearly in the spirit of things. Dressed in his own pyjamas and a dressing gown, he greets me and shows me to his office overlooking the lake. The sun is shining, and the view of Mont Blanc in the distance is glorious.
Although new to Switzerland, and in his first position as Head of an International School, Tim brings a wealth of experience to the role having taught at the independent school Clifton College in Bristol, The Dragon School in Oxford, Felsted School in Essex, and most recently Colet Court (prep school to S Paul’s School) in London, gaining experience in teaching and leadership roles at both junior and senior, selective and non-selective, co-ed and single-sex schools.
When did you start in education and what inspired you to become a teacher?
Both my parents were teachers, and my father had said to me “don’t be a teacher”. Of course, if your father says not to do something, you inevitably end up doing it. But seriously, I studied natural sciences at Cambridge and I was one of those people who couldn’t quite decide what to do when it came to A-level. I couldn’t quite decide what to do at university either because I have always been interested in a broad spectrum of things. I could have studied languages, for example, as I have always enjoyed them but in the end, I plumped for sciences. Even once I had narrowed it down to that, I couldn’t quite decide what type of science I wanted to study!
The great thing about science at Cambridge is that during the degree, you study quite a variety of topics. In the end, by the time I got further into higher education, I was heavily into materials science, what things are made of, which I find fascinating.
I think I could have been an engineer, or designer, or a research scientist, but when I met my wife she was studying at Homerton College in Cambridge, which at the time was a teacher training college, so we both embraced a future in teaching.
In the end, I realised that I was interested in working with people, that I wanted to do something fun and challenging, that I wanted to do something that I felt meant something, with real purpose. Education ticked all of those boxes. Another box that it ticked for me was the fact that I am interested in lots of things. I think some people think that teaching can be quite narrow, but it is absolutely not. Throughout my educational career, I have been involved in sport, drama, science, music, and loads more, because it all happens in a school.
It’s great because if you want to get involved in those sorts of things, you can. Through teaching, I have been able to pursue a very broad life, and it’s been absolutely great. I don’t regret a single day of the decision I made all those years ago.
From your experience teaching in the UK, and your time as a head teacher, what are you going to bring to GES?
Experience! I have a taught in all ages of education, and I have worked in some excellent schools with high standards. St Paul’s, for example, has a very multinational community, which is not so different from the type of clientele I see here. Obviously, Geneva is tiny compared to London, but it’s a multinational centre so I’ve already recognised a lot of similarities, which is great.
I have spent a little over half of my career teaching in secondary schools, and the other half teaching primary age children. I have taught in boys’ schools, co-ed schools, and English prep schools. I think that is a very broad range of experience, and there probably aren’t many people in my role here who have done that.
Most people tend to get pigeon-holed early on as either a secondary teacher, or a primary, or a prep, and people think that they are different worlds. The reality is that the differences are often not as great as people might think. Human beings all have needs, and the needs are roughly similar throughout the age-range. Yes, hormones kick in, the language people use changes, but it’s a gradual transition. The basic skills you have as an educator to communicate and motivate are not that different as the students grow older. There are some obvious differences, for example, I remember teaching a group of 8-year-olds, and when they walked in the first thing that struck me was how small they were. Before then I had been used to teaching people mostly taller than me!
I think the whole business of passing on some of your knowledge and experience to the next generation. and helping them through the school is a wonderful thing to do. I am sure I can apply that to GES.
What qualities would you hope children have when they leave GES?
Open minded, genuine, possessing a strong sense of right and wrong, a global outlook, curious, realising that there is more to learn than we can ever learn, there will always be more to learn; lifelong learning I suppose is the cliché. I hope they leave us as people who are eager to get out into the world and make a difference or do something with their lives. That doesn’t mean they must be Prime Minister or a global leader because that is not for everyone, but knowing who they are, and having an inner self-confidence that makes them sure of the things that they could, or might want to do. I hope that GES students will have a good personal platform from which to do those things. We want them to leave to embrace tomorrow’s world.
What can you tell me about the new secondary campus in Versoix?
The idea of the secondary school is to build on the excellent reputation that has been created here amongst parents and to offer our students who would normally leave from here, the obvious next step. The projected final size of the secondary school is 5-600, but that is about as far as we want to go. This is so that we can maintain that individual feeling, whilst being able to offer a breadth of subjects and activities that become possible at that level of student enrolment. It’s very important to me that we maintain this nurturing, familial feel.
The secondary is a brand-new campus, only three kilometres from here actually, in Versoix. We have commissioned a Dutch educational architect called Dirk Jan Postel to design a dynamic learning environment. He designed the latest extension to this campus (Genthod), which is where our year 7 students are studying at the moment whilst we complete the new campus.
We are creating an inspiring space which can be used for many different functions where we will be able to teach students, but also there will be creative areas, group work spaces, etc.
We know that we will be offering the iGCSE, and following that an A-Level option.
What are the aspects that parents of GES value most about your school?
The warm, welcoming atmosphere, the quality of the education on offer, and the small family community minded sprit of the place. You can feel it as soon as it comes in. There are happy, smiling children, who are well looked after. We know them individually, we know their names and characters, and this is first and foremost what parents value most.
They also value the environment, the green space, the wonderful views. It lends a whole atmosphere and environment to the place which is difficult to put into words but it’s all part of it.
As we open our secondary, we want to keep that. Although the new building is very modern and futuristic, which is important and we love it, at the same time we will still strive for that level of individualism that you see here now.
When did you arrive here?
August! I was here for a month and settled in nicely in time for the start of the new school year.
Do you have family here?
Other than my wife, not in Geneva. I have two boys who are grown up, one is 30 and the other 33, both live in West London which is great because it means we still have a connection back to London. I am a Grandad to two grandsons (aged 3, and a few months). This is great because it reconnects me with the very young, and it’s fascinating. I do have some relatives here (aunts and cousins) who we are gradually rediscovering and meeting which is lovely.
Do you have any hobbies?
Singing is my greatest passion. Actually, my wife and I have just joined a choir in Geneva.
How are you going to make the most out of Switzerland?
Well so far, Switzerland is brilliant. My wife and I both love the outdoors. We love walking, travelling, and trains! I love cycling so I will be on my bike, and I cycle to school most days. I have the same bike that I bought when I was 17. In its day it was very good, it’s a Reynolds 531 Steel frame that I am very fond of.
Skiing, we haven’t done for a long time. I don’t know to what extent we will get back into that, but I did a lot when I was little and my father was a skier. I quite like the idea of putting snow shoes on so we would love to do that.
We really love culture, so we will be going to the theatre, concerts, and opera. We went to a lovely concert in Tannay when we first arrived, so will definitely be doing more of that.
Exploring Switzerland is going to be amazing!
Geneva English School: Awarded Excellence Across the Board
Geneva English School has become the only international school in Geneva and also in Switzerland to receive an Excellent rating in its inspection report by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. The school, which has this year expanded into Secondary, received ‘Excellent’ in all eight aspects.
The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) follows the UK Government’s high standards required for British Schools Overseas and the inspection was conducted in March this year (2017). In its findings, the report praises Geneva English School (GES) for its “engaging, relevant and cutting-edge education”, “motivational atmosphere” and “highly-committed staff”.
The report describes the school as fostering a genuine spirit of enquiry and developing articulate, confident, thoughtful learners. But it also emphasises the school’s caring and nurturing atmosphere. “Throughout the school, teachers and teaching assistants have an exceptionally warm and positive rapport with the pupils, instilling in them a ‘can do’ attitude, which builds their resilience and perseverance,” it states. “A common feature is teachers’ energy and enthusiasm.”
As an independent, British government-approved body, an inspection by ISI provides parents with the reassurance they need to ensure they are selecting the very best school for their child.
Clare Allen, a parent of two GES pupils, 10-year-old Alfie and 7-year-old Charlotte, who is also a Teaching Assistant at the school, agrees entirely with the report. “What makes GES special? It’s just everything!” she says. “That nurturing environment, the kids are treated as individuals, children and teachers are so happy, and walk into any classroom and you can see a great level of learning going on.”
GES Headmaster, Tim Meunier said, “Everyone in the school is very proud to have been praised highly for our learning standards, environment and educational approach, which we believe are absolutely right for today’s young people. It is an exceptional validation for the school and one that is very encouraging as we expand into the Secondary years.”
The full ISI inspection report and more information about the school is available at www.geschool.ch