Impressions of Knowle Hall
It is hard for some parents to understand the transformation that the Knowle Hall programme might have upon their children, but I witnessed it first hand on my visit to meet up with the Grade 6 cohort in early November, our first YWIES Yantai students ever to attend this programme.
We are deeply proud of our English immersion environment here in school, of the opportunities that our students have to speak English and learn to communicate in English on a daily basis surrounded and guided by first language speakers from many different countries, but day to day, we cannot replicate the real environment of study in the United Kingdom.
From the daily routines, living environment, table etiquette and games and books, to the attachment of the programme to British nature and environments, to the connection with English schools, teachers and students, our Yew Wah students really experience the UK in a way that only a very well-conceived study trip rather than a foreign holiday can provide.
I have known Steve Wheeler, the Head of the Knowle Hall Centre, as a friend and colleague for many years, and he offered to give me an extensive tour of the facilities, and also agreed to undertaking a lengthy interview with me about the learning centre and its programme. We plan to turn some of this interview along with footage of our Grade 6 and 8 students this year into an extended video which will help existing parents and students to understand the Knowle Hall experience better, and understand why it offers YWIES Yantai students such important opportunities at critical stages of their Lower Secondary development.
The first thing which struck me on my tour with Mr Wheeler was the beauty of the campus and the suitability for varied outdoor activities. There is abundant outdoor space, the campus is surrounded by woodland and farms, and the students have wonderful opportunities to play outside in clean air, get close to animals and plants, and explore an unspoiled and undeveloped natural landscape. Mr Wheeler showed me the forest school areas, and the walled garden where students will be able in due course to look after animals, grow vegetables and flowers and learn about compost, growing conditions and many of the things many young children today who grow up in urban environments are deprived of.
The second thing which became very apparent, was how much thought had gone into the programme and how expertly crafted and well organised it was. The students are involved in very experiential, hands-on but also deeply reflective learning, and the expertise and experience of the teachers and staff is impressive. I met one teacher, Stuart, leading the Robotics programme, who I had previously known during my time at the Grammar School at Leeds (GSAL). GSAL is the biggest and one of the most successful private co-educational schools in England, and Stuart led the Design and Technology Department there for many years. For him and educators like him to have become part of the Knowle Hall Centre faculty now is a real credit to the team that Mr Wheeler has created.
Not only the teachers, but the chefs and catering team, activity co-ordinators, trip organisers, gardeners and site managers all possessed a clear expertise and enthusiasm for their various areas, as well as a genuine understanding of how to work with young people, how to engage second-language students primarily from China, and how to encourage students to step outside their comfort zone, take risks and challenge themselves to experience new things.
All of course, is done in a very safe environment. The UK is well known for his strict adherence to Health and Safety regulation, but Knowle Hall is a testament to the Foundation’s understanding that this is our primary responsibility for our children, in particular when they are thousands of miles away from home. The fire safety, food safety and quality of ingredients, general cleaning and surface hygiene, clothes washing and child safeguarding procedures were some of the best I have witnessed in any school, and every member of staff was fully trained and first aid certified.
Lastly, having lived out of the United Kingdom for many years, I was struck by the warmth of welcome, patience with students and the positive cultural environment. Mr Wheeler, a former Deputy Headmaster in a local Secondary School and many of his staff have chosen to work at Knowle Hall rather than undertake more lucrative employment, because they understand the importance of Chinese people and culture in the world today, and want to play their part in shaping the internationalism and global competency of the younger generation of Chinese students. There was a real sense of pride in wanting to share the “Best of British” in terms of food, education, trips, manners, historic locations, pioneering social and technological developments and areas of natural beauty, as well as understanding of how new and different this is for the students when they first attend Knowle Hall.
I was very proud to be part of an educational Foundation that has created the Knowle Hall programme, of Mr Wheeler and his team’s efforts in turning the vision into a reality, of what Britain still has to offer in many ways in a modern, changing world, and of how our students clearly grew and developed through their Knowle Hall experiences – I hope that this year’s Grade 6 and Grade 8 students will be the first of many YWIES Yantai students to benefit from this transformative journey.
Aaron King, Western Co-Principal