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Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong recently welcomed Mrs Jo Duncan, Headmistress of Wycombe Abbey UK, to its Hong Kong campus to talk about the synergy between the two schools and to discuss what makes a Wycombe Abbey education special.
“It’s very exciting to have a family of international schools and there’s a great deal that we can do together as we look to the future, both in terms of pupil and staff interactions and the sharing of best practice,” said Mrs Duncan, who was appointed to the role of Headmistress at the UK school in 2019.
This was Mrs Duncan’s first visit to the Hong Kong campus since she took up her role and she was impressed by the eye-catching architecture of the purpose-built Hong Kong school, with its grand atrium and massive glass ceilings that allow natural light to filter in to its corridors. She noted what a privilege it was to study in such a lovely space.
“Coming from Britain where we often work in older, listed buildings where you can’t easily alter things because they’ve been there for hundreds of years, it is wonderful to see WASHK’s bright, modern building,” she said.
But beyond the four walls, Mrs Duncan was most excited to connect without staff and pupils and to talk about what is at the heart of a Wycombe Abbey education and how the ‘DNA’ from the UK school is transferred to the school in Hong Kong.
“It’s looking at how to take the ‘DNA’, and the heart of what makes Wycombe Abbey the school that it is and how we can best share that with our sister schools,” she said.
Founded in 1896, Wycombe Abbey UK consistently ranks as one of the top all-girls independent boarding and day schools and has educated a list of notable people including Dame Sarah Springman, former Rector at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, one of the foremost technical universities in the world, and Principal of St Hilda’s College at the University of Oxford, and actor Sally Phillips, and CNN Journalist and Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. While the Hong Kong school is relatively new, it has strong connections to the UK school, and Mrs Duncan said that these connections are premised on the personal relationships that have built up since the school’s inception.
She noted that there are a number of Wycombe Abbey alumnae now living Hong Kong who maintain regular contact with the UK school, and those relationships have formed an international link for pupils on both sides of the globe.
“I’m keen to meet with people who are connected to Wycombe Abbey, the Seniors (alumnae), the women who’ve been through the School, as well as current and prospective parents,” she said.
Since Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong only caters for pupils from the ages of 5 to 13 years, many female pupils look to Wycombe Abbey UK as their next step. Although they are pupils at a Wycombe Abbey school, entrance is not automatic to the UK school. Mrs Duncan emphasised that pupils still need to undergo the same interview processes and assessments to get accepted and this is to ensure that pupils are a right fit for Wycombe Abbey and will thrive there.
“I think fit is critical,” Mrs Duncan said. “Very often parents view the School as protecting itself, whereas actually the reverse is true, we’re making sure that it’s a good fit for your child so that your child succeeds and flourishes.”
Each year, the Wycombe Abbey UK takes in approximately 85 pupils at age 11. Most girls tend to board and stay through the seven-year period of senior school in the UK.
Even though the Hong Kong school is only in its fourth academic year, three pupils from Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong have already applied and joined the UK school, settling well into their school environment, Mrs Duncan assured.
Their successful applications were premised on the fact that the UK school and the Hong Kong school are part of the same Wycombe Abbey family; they share the same values and educational ethos.
“Aside from having strong academic standards, we’re really looking for academic qualities,” Mrs Duncan explained. “Virtues such as determination, resilience, resourcefulness, and the ability to reflect are viewed as markers for success at the UK school. And like the Hong Kong school, it is also looking for students who want to be part of a community and who want to get involved in a whole range of extracurricular activities.”
Since the UK school is a boarding school, there is plenty of curiosity about what it’s like to go from a day school in a city like Hong Kong to a boarding environment in the UK. Mrs Duncan said there are plenty of support structures in place. “Pupils join us at 11 and they’re all together in one boarding house for the first year,” she explained. There is lots of support to help the transition from prep school to senior school. Mrs Duncan also noted that a unique feature of Wycombe Abbey as a boarding school is that it has mixed aged dormitories; the pupils embrace this and she believes this forms a key part of the whole experience.
“The girls love it! They get to make friends across the year groups as well as within their own group, and the older girls support the younger ones and the younger ones can seek advice and get support for day-to-day matters from the older girls,” she said.
So overall, what makes the Wycombe Abbey schools so successful? According to Mrs Duncan, it’s thanks to the dedicated, capable staff who establish strong relationships with pupils, and that becomes the basis for their learning and supports academic excellence and ensure they flourish and grow in to the young women of tomorrow.