If you want to know why the International Baccalaureate works, Dwight School London Headteacher David Rose is best placed to reveal why. He talks to Mark Kebble about a global career, what he loves about the IB and why Dwight School London is different

I believe next year will mark ten years for you David at Dwight School London – time flown by?

When I finish this year, I will have been here ten years, which is the longest I have been anywhere. Normally I always moved on after about five years, but here it’s been a bit different.

You have worked all over the globe David – how important has this been to shaping the Headmaster you are today?

I have been lucky. I remember when I was starting out with teaching I always thought I wanted to go abroad and teach. It didn’t really happen on purpose, I just happened to marry my wife who was working for the Foreign Commonwealth Office, so I went with her to begin with. She had the job, I tagged along and got a teaching job.

It’s been important. I took my own daughters around with me, so I understand what it’s like for international parents. I see what the problems are. They miss family and they miss friendships, but they make different kinds of friends. Sometimes for me I was in a bubble of an international school in a foreign country where everything was British, other times I have been exposed and had to learn the language and get on with the local people. It’s been a good mix.

As I have gone through I went from being really a primary school teacher to being Head of a school that is all through from 2-18. It gave me the opportunity to teach GCSE law, which I had never done before, or to work with Sixth Form, or to work with nursery. It’s a privileged position really because not many people get to do it.

When you came back to the UK, why here?

I had been travelling for 25-30 years and my children were growing up, getting married, having families, and we were thinking we could carry on doing this another five years in Houston, another five years in Hawaii or wherever we might be, but we wanted to be back with family. Coming back I then thought what am I suited to come back to? I couldn’t come back and be a primary head, which is what I used to be, because I had all this secondary experience. I couldn’t come back and work in a state school, although I had worked in state schools, because I now had a lot of private school experience. So it was really difficult to find something that was going to work and this one happened to pop. Here was a school that was just becoming international, in a part of London that I vaguely knew and what was exciting about it was that it was a through school, so from 3-18.

It was going through a lot of transition, but I enjoy that, I like that kind of challenge. We were a bit prep, a bit GCSE, a bit international, and it wasn’t like what I was used to. I thought we could change the nature of the school, up the standards and have it as a more satisfying and profitable business. The school needed change and was ready to change.

Why the IB for you?

We are an inclusive school, students don’t do entrance exams to get here. That’s important I think because the IB suits all abilities. I like the fact the IB keeps that breadth, gets children thinking about their learning rather than thinking about trying to memorise some content to pass the test. I like the fact it’s intercultural and suits children of different nationalities, and I like there’s an emphasis on languages. I also like the fact you can’t drop maths. My wife dropped maths, but if she had been forced to keep it going that would have helped her in adult life. But for a lot of students maths might be their passion so they get to really explore it. I like the rounded nature of it,  the international aspects of it, and I like the fact it’s really about interaction and being involved, whether it’s to do with being involved with the community, or being involved in what’s going on in the school, or being involved globally with the charity projects that they do. We are starting to see now that statistics are showing that IB students do better, do better at university, don’t drop out as much in the first year, are more likely to do postgraduate work, and more likely to get a 1st. But it’s not just about that, it’s really about the kind of person it makes them. There’s a great bit in the IB that says ‘people with their differences can also be right’ – if everybody had that understanding perhaps the world wouldn’t be in the muddle that its in.

When you look at an IB classroom, do you think the biggest difference is interaction?

Yes. There is a lot of emphasis on the student being able to explain, rather than just memorise something. But it’s about questioning and about critical thinking and problem solving, those out of the box ideas. The other thing that the IB encourages is that you can learn from your mistakes, so you shouldn’t be afraid to have a go at something and in some settings that’s definitely the way it is, you don’t want to put your hand up in case the answer is wrong or a bit nervous about it. The IB rewards that, they have something called the learner profile and they have an aspect that’s called being a risk taker. It doesn’t mean doing crazy physical things, but it means trying something you have never done before or being prepared to have a go at something your way and then defend it. In an IB classroom you get students who question a lot and want to know why – why are we learning this, how is it important, how is it going to affect us when we are older. There’s a great part in the Diploma that’s called Theory of Knowledge, which is quite difficult for students to understand initially, but it is how we know what we know, how we think, what we learn, how we can prove things are right. Some students they can get quite bolshie at times but you can’t just expect them to accept what you are telling them – in a way, with so many different cultures you wouldn’t want that.

Is the IB geared towards the individual?

Absolutely. A lot of people would say the IB doesn’t suit everybody, but I think it does. The problem here in the UK is there’s a reluctance to accept there’s another system that is as good as, if not better than that we currently have. Some people would say the IB is only suited to gifted learners or students who are really well organised. Our approach is that it should be available to everybody because you can learn so much from it. Not just in academics, but you learn about yourself and what you can contribute.

Dwight School London, 6 Friern Barnet Lane N11 3LX; 020 8920 0600; dwightlondon.org

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