In 2020, at the height of the pandemic and with pupils working at home in Northamptonshire and in countries across the globe, Bosworth Independent College, appointed a new principal, Jason Lewis. Now that the world of education is beginning to get back to normal, Jason spoke about his life before Bosworth, how the school coped with the pandemic and what’s most impressed him since he took up his new role.
What attracted you to Bosworth Independent College?
Moving myself and my family to a multi-cultural school was incredibly important. Before coming here, I’d been living in East Africa for 11 years. In 2009, my wife and I were both teaching in North Wales and decided one cold, dark winter’s morning that we felt like we needed to get away and into the sunshine. We had a 10-month-old baby and our families thought we were mad, but we sold up and moved to Nairobi and absolutely loved it out there.
We intended to experience a different culture and a different way of life and to then come back after a couple of years and pick up our careers in Britain again. We ended up staying 11 years, including six years in Uganda. It was one of the best things we ever did. But by the time we left we had four children and decided it was time to come back to this country for their secondary education, and so they could get to know exactly where they came from, to experience life in the UK and get to know their family here.
I came over for an interview in February then went home and almost straight into lockdown, returning in May on a UK repatriation flight. I remained head of my school in Uganda for a couple of months because we were all working remotely, so I could continue, and then joined Bosworth in the summer of 2020.
What attracted me is that I wanted to stay within a school with an international flavour, so Bosworth is a fantastic fit. I want my children to grow up in a multi-cultural setting and that’s very much something they will get here.
What were your first goals when you arrived?
One of major things I want to achieve is to get Bosworth better known in the local community, to raise awareness of who we are and what we do and what we can do for local children as well as our
I want Bosworth to be the school of choice for British children, particularly from within Northamptonshire, and our numbers of local students are steadily growing.
There’s a lot to be said for experiencing different attitudes to education. We have children here from countries all over the world and every classroom has a mix of backgrounds, attitudes to learning and behaviour and young people learn and grow through that.
Parents of our international students like the fact that their children will be in classes with first-language English speakers, so their English improves, and at the same time local students have much to benefit from as well, through being with children from other cultures and widening their horizons.
When you put a lot of young people with different backgrounds and attitudes together, it just works. They grow to know one another and learn about different perspectives.
Can you describe the school’s approach to teaching?
We have students who come in and want to achieve and do well and to do that they have to be focused in class. Our class sizes are between eight and 10 students and so they get the one-to-one attention they need and that they often don’t get in large groups. In a class of 25 to 30, there are inevitably one or two who divert the teacher’s attention. Some children get left behind, they are not challenged, and fall behind in their studies. In a small class, teachers really get to know the children as individuals and constantly motivate them to push themselves.
We are very strong on academic results, they are generally outstanding, and there are key elements to that. Staff are subject specialists, so the teaching is of the highest level, but then on top of that we offer excellent pastoral care, wellbeing and support.
It is a source of pride that we equip students well for the next step. We have an Oxbridge Coordinator and a Competitive Universities Coordinator to help prepare those students who have been identified as Oxbridge or Russell Group university candidates. We have begun to identify those children who are only 14 or 15 but who have the potential to go to a leading university and we start the process then. We run after-school programmes so that when they get to 17, they are at the point where they are ready to apply for the top degree courses.
We have recently introduced a Medic Programme Coordinator who is a specialist in medicine-related courses – whether the student is looking at medicine, veterinary medicine or dentistry – we have someone who can help them plan for university applications and interviews and prepare them for what working in medicine is actually like.
These days, the top universities want more than academic excellence, they want someone who will add value to the community. Five A* at A-level is fantastic but it’s not enough on its own, they are also looking for wider interests and better preparation for life after school.
Personal development of children is something that is quite critical and so our extracurricular programmes such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award play a vital role.
So, it’s about preparing young people for the real world?
The most important thing to teach our students, is that you can stay within your own square mile, with your own people, and with people who think like you do, if you want to, but when you get out into the world of work, you’ll suddenly be faced with a lot of different perspectives and attitudes and the world is a much more interesting and challenging place. The more prepared you are for that, the better.
Bosworth is a lovely place to be. It’s a vibrant and happy community. Walk into any classroom and you maybe have students from Britain, China, Korea, Kazakhstan or Poland, they all have very different perspectives of how the world works and they can feed off one another.
With students from all over the world, how did Bosworth cope when the pandemic struck?
We managed to switch quickly to online learning and we kept the timetable exactly as it was, but having so many international students made it interesting from a logistics point of view.
Local children were able to work from home. International students who could fly home did so and worked remotely from there. We would record online lessons so that those in time zones that made it difficult to sign in could pick up the recording later. The staff worked hard to arrange some one-to-one time with all those students to make sure they understood everything.
Then there were those students who weren’t able to fly home and so they remained at Bosworth as boarders and our catering and housekeeping teams remained there to care for them, and the students logged into lessons just like those at home.
All in all, the pandemic had very little impact on learning, which reflects in our academic results. When we came back face-to-face in March last year there were still children who weren’t allowed to fly back into the UK, and teachers managed hybrid lessons with students in the classroom and on video calls remotely.
All the staff did a fantastic job of making it work. It was challenging, but they managed it. And, throughout remote learning, the senior leadership team made sure every week that they made calls to students and colleagues just to check up that they were doing OK, because we knew we all had to look after people’s mental health as well.
After a year and a half in the role, what are your priorities now?
I do think there’s still a perception locally that we are a school for international students. That’s not the case and I want to change that. I want to make sure that the Northamptonshire community understands that we are here for local children. Our doors are always open, and we welcome people to come and see the college and what we do, at any time.
In addition, while it’s true that our academic results are excellent, it’s not all about top grades at A-level. We get a lot of students who have found that A-levels are not for them, either before, during or after studying for them, and there are options available.
A-levels are exam focused and that doesn’t suit everyone. BTEC is a similarly rigorous course but is centred around coursework and assessment rather than exams and that suits some learners. We’ve seen students come to us to do a BTEC course because their GCSEs weren’t great and have gone on to study Law and courses a like at university. That’s fantastic and shows the opportunities available.
There’s a lot of different pathways for people to explore and we have the staff and the expertise to help children find the right one.