This month, we talk to Maria Rosengren, Admissions Director at Halcyon London International School, about her role, how Halcyon is creating a student-first community, and the advantages of an international outlook.
Can you tell us a little bit about your role at Halcyon?
I’ve worked at Halcyon since February 2013 – before our school officially opened in September 2013. My role is to support prospective families to learn about Halcyon, and guide them through our application process. I’m passionate about sharing our wonderful school and innovative learning environment with new families.
What’s the general ethos of an international school?
Any international school must have a commitment to promoting ‘international-mindedness’ – an awareness of the range of languages, cultures and histories worldwide. This ethos enriches students’ learning, providing the grounds for a wider discussion around the content covered. But most importantly, being internationally-minded prepares our students to connect with each other regardless of background, enabling a collaborative approach to learning and ensuring that each and every student has a voice. At Halcyon, we understand that student advocacy is crucial to their engagement with learning.
How would you describe the culture at Halcyon School? What makes you stand out?
Halcyon is a student-first community, and we ensure everything we do follows this principle. We’re the only non-profit IB school in London, meaning that all of our time and resources go into improving our rigorous learning environment.
Our three pillars of ‘Innovation, Collaboration and Community’ really make us stand out. They push us to constantly reflect on, and improve, what we offer our students, while providing a welcoming space for all.
Our Wellbeing Programme, which includes one-on-one mentoring and cognitive coaching, is targeted at helping students build this safe environment. We’re committed to giving our students a voice, and have a Student Council that advocates for key changes in student life, facilities and staff recruitment.
What qualities do you look for in your students and their families?
We look for students with the academic skills and competencies required to thrive in an International Baccalaureate environment, recognised for its academic rigour and diverse assessment methods.
Alongside demonstrating a strong academic performance, we’re looking for students with excellent intrapersonal and interpersonal skills. Evidence of extracurricular activities, and positive engagement with the community, are other assets we really value.
We expect students and their families to embrace the International Baccalaureate mission and its requirements, including a commitment to learning an additional language and demonstrating global-mindedness.
Can you tell us a little bit about the application process?
Halcyon is unusual in that we have a rolling admissions process, meaning there is no deadline. However, we process applications in the order in which they are completed. Due to the limited number of places, we encourage families to apply as soon as possible as grades/year groups fill up quickly.
There is no entrance exam for general applications to Halcyon. We are interested to know how a child can demonstrate their learning every day, rather than what can be shown in a one-hour entrance exam. We review a range of documents offering different perspectives. We also spend time with the families in an informal interview to see if we’re the right fit for each other.
What are the advantages of an international system over a British system?
Aligning our school with an international curriculum allows students to gain qualifications that are relevant to a much broader range of future study and work options. A comparison of the British system to any international system will quickly portray the relative peculiarity of the GCSE to A-level trajectory. Taking a set of examinations aged 15-16, and then narrowing down to three or four subjects, is not mirrored elsewhere in the world.
For Halcyon, being able to step out of the bounds of the British system also enables us to teach a wider range of content and contexts. We’re not required to teach history solely through the lens of World War I and II, for example. Instead, we can take our students around the world to develop a much broader perspective on the subjects they are enrolled in.
What are the advantages of the IB over A-levels?
Being an IB school not only provides us with a more flexible curriculum, but ensures that students engage with a range of subject areas up to the age of 18. Taking a language is compulsory, as is having to choose six subjects (three at Higher Level and three at Standard Level). That means students have the space to engage in rigorous study of humanities, arts and sciences all at once, keeping open many more doors than the usual path of taking three A-levels.
Fundamentally, the structure of the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) centres around learning important life skills, rather than an inflexible checklist of content. The Theory of Knowledge classes, for example, encourage students to consider the impacts of epistemological structures in everything they read and learn. The Extended Essay that students complete in the first year of the IBDP demands an unmatched level of organisation and in-depth research – reinforced by the Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) component. CAS adds a level of personal responsibility to learning by requiring students to plan and carry out community projects.
The attributes that the IBDP fosters will be essential to students in later life and further academia – hence the IB’s ‘gold-standard’ reputation for university entry requirements.
At Halcyon, enrolling our lower grades in the IB Middle Years Programme means that students become well-acquainted with these skills even earlier. For our school, encouraging students to take on a level of personal responsibility in the curriculum runs parallel to our Wellbeing Programme, which aims to help students build a set of skills that prepare them for challenges at school and in later life.
Top British schools have always had international appeal – why do you think Halcyon School attracts such interest here in the UK and overseas?
Halcyon’s learning culture ensures that our students are prepared for any future challenge, in academia and beyond. Our teachers are trained in cognitive coaching and spend a lot of one-on-one time with students to draw out their unique potential.
We develop students’ confidence by giving them agency over their own learning, and involving them in often surprising levels of decision-making in the school. In our purposely small school, our collaborative and creative culture allows students to be risk-takers, and to explore their passions in a safe and interdisciplinary environment.
We enable further collaboration through the unique integration of education technology in the classroom. We are a Google Reference School and an Apple Regional Training Centre – paving the way for the use of EdTech to enhance learning.
Our students leave Halcyon as confident leaders, globally-minded collaborators and creative problem-solvers who are firmly connected to a world outside of the school gates.