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Malvern College: More than just a name

How does a British independent school successfully transfer its brand overseas? Lucinda Reid finds the answer at Malvern College

Posted by Rianna Newman | July 05, 2017 | International

What do ambition, integrity, resilience and humility have in common? At Malvern College, these are some of the 11 qualities that underpin the school’s whole approach. Malvern College was formed in 1865 by a group of local businessmen, opening with just 24 boys and six masters. Fast-forward 152 years and Malvern College has grown to become a co-educational boarding and day school for hundreds of pupils. The school offers a very holistic education, with a commitment to co-curricular activities, which develops individuals who are confident and inspired to make a difference. 

But that’s only half the story. 

In 2012, Malvern College expanded into China, by opening its first overseas school in Qingdao. This is thought to have been the first purpose-built international secondary school for Chinese nationals that is backed by a leading independent UK school and licensed by the Chinese authorities. 

After the success of Malvern College Qingdao, they continued their expansion by opening a school in Chengdu, followed by Malvern College Egypt in 2016. Finally, Malvern College Hong Kong is set to open in September 2017 with a pre-school, and a primary and secondary school will follow in 2018. It’s fair to say that Malvern College has been busy over the past five years. 

Nevertheless, with five international schools under their name, how have they managed to ensure that the historic Malvern College brand is not diluted? The answer lies, in part, with the aforementioned qualities. 

“The qualities underpin a lot of our discussions with our international schools in terms of their plans for developments,” explained Nicola Dudley, Director of Education at Malvern College International. “This also helps ensure that the same key messages come out across the schools, for example in assemblies, teacher discussions with the pupils and parent engagement. Our partners from Hong Kong have been visiting the UK this week and something they’ve been looking at very closely is how the Malvern qualities are reflected across the curriculum. They were keen to see how the Malvern qualities are developed and that is an area in which we engage with our partners from the very start of the process.” 

Clearly, the qualities of Malvern College have created a solid foundation for the school and its international schools, but Malvern College quickly learnt that flexibility is key with their partner schools overseas. 

“We can’t transport Malvern College in its entirety to any foreign situation, as it has to be localised,” said Allan Walker, Director of Malvern College International Schools. “You have to take account of local cultural and educational expectations. However, all the fundamentals of a Malvern education are there, and the way that we ensure that they are there is by regular visits to each school.” 

“There needs to be an amount of flexibility,” added Nicola. “The school needs to have systems in place which can adapt to the local context. It’s important never to assume that something which works in one context will work in another.” 

Consequently, Allan and Nicola visit each school at least three times a year to attend board meetings and Nicola leads a quality assurance team which visits the schools annually to ensure that they are aligned with Malvern’s ethos and values. The Headmaster of Malvern College, Antony Clark, and Bursar, Guy Ralphs, are also intimately involved with all the schools and meet regularly with Nicola and Allan. All of these steps ensure that each school is authentically related to Malvern College, so that it is more than just a name. 

“Regular communication is essential,” confirmed Nicola. “We are generally in touch with all our schools at least once a week, and sometimes on a daily basis, so that we have a real understanding of the school and can offer support and share resources where there is need.” 

Malvern College main building - UK

Malvern College has a strong relationship with all their partners overseas, and this is also essential to safeguarding their identity. Prior to 2012, Malvern College had been looking to go international for some years and considered many opportunities around the world, before their now Chinese partners approached them. Allan explained that their initial conversations were a “getting to know you process”, as the partners wanted to make sure that the school could engage with this type of project. Plus, Malvern College wanted know if the partners had an educational vision that suited their philosophy. On both counts the relationship worked, and the rest, as they say, is history. However, is there a secret to schools finding the right partnership? 

“That’s tricky, as there are a number of routes to this,” said Allan. “One is the reactive, opportunistic approach, so you might have an investor who does a tour of the UK to find the right match. The Department of International Trade also might promote some opportunities or you could go through alumnae. There is no hard or fast rule with this, as you often find the best partners through a chance encounter.”  

Although the idea of a chance encounter might sound like a romantic notion, Malvern College is more than aware that expanding internationally is not a decision to be taken lightly. For some independent schools this might not be an appropriate exercise, but if it is suitable, it can be incredibly valuable to all involved. Malvern College has seen many benefits, as now staff and pupils can access exciting opportunities, including teacher exchanges, professional career development and educational visits. 

“Malvern College has always been an internationally minded school, the IB is a long-established part of the sixth form programme, so that an international outlook is part of the Malvern approach,” said Nicola. 

“In that sense, it felt like a natural step.” 

So, after the success of Malvern College International, what will be the next step? After all, as their motto states: ‘Wise is the person who looks ahead.’ 

“We regard the opening of our two campuses in Hong Kong as the end of our initial development phase, but we remain ambitious to grow the group and we are looking to develop further projects,” concluded Allan. 

For Malvern College, ‘watch this space’ has never seemed more appropriate… 

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