Aiglon College is located at 1,200m in a small, alpine village. How does embracing this “mountain school” environment make Aiglon a strong education destination?
With the emergence of a strong growth-mindset amongst business leaders today, there is a parallel recognition that the human being cannot relentlessly and uniquely pursue a break-neck speed that does not take into account wellness. The well being of the individual has to find a happy balance with everything in their lives, and that’s particularly true of young people as they are growing up and pursuing their education.
A school like Aiglon that is situated in an inspiring place of natural beauty creates a framework for people to escape some of the restless pressures of highly urbanised life. There is a need for freedom, for expression, for exercise, and Aiglon gives children the opportunity to group in an environment that is not dominated by some of the issues of urbanised life.
Equally, however, our internationalism cannot be separated from our mountain environment. Highly successful people in the 21st century are extremely mobile and require high levels of global awareness and cultural competency. I think they are increasingly recognising that this is something that should also be in the core curriculum. The traditional subjects that have for hundreds of years lain at the heart of what’s perceived as good education are now being matched by things like entrepreneurial awareness, intercultural awareness, diversity in all its shapes and forms, and an ability to come at problems and challenges and opportunities from a wide variety of angles that consider international, cultural differences.
What do families like about your location and this approach to education?
Switzerland remains an extremely attractive destination in terms of its physical geography, its international character, safety, political stability, easy accessibility and that it has a long tradition of excellence in education. This is certainly an attraction.
For some families, there is also a recognition that they don’t want their child to grow up in a highly nationalistic environment. Although they may be impressed by a British or North American independent school, they sometimes find them too British or too North American. Aiglon has the advantage that everybody is in a minority. In this way, the dominant culture of the school becomes the value set of the school rather than the value set of a particular national identity.
As Head Master, how do you set education priorities that embrace this identity?
I think the real starting point for this in a school is to have a very, very clear idea of what your value set is, of what your guiding principles are. Having established those, to make sure that they are shared and truly representative of the values of the people who are working in your school, whether they are staff, students and indeed, families. That’s the core priority as an educational leader, to be explicit and clear of the guiding principles of your institution and then ensure that those ideas underpin your key strategic objectives. I will quite often, if I’m stuck on a difficult decision or a difficult review of the school, look to the guiding principles and ask, does this actually help us make the right decision?
It is also a key message to parents that the measure of a highly successful education is not always the certificate or the destination that you move onto after the school. I am more interested in producing young people who are going to be great people with really strong values and a sense of purpose, a strong intercultural understanding and a strong desire to convert their lives into meaningful and positive changes in the lives of others and their environment.
I think it’s worth mentioning that we can be really proud of our exam results. I think we have excellent results and excellent university placements, but for me these provide transitory satisfactions, not transformational satisfactions. Measuring success in schools for these kind of qualitative areas is often harder than quantitative areas because it is an ongoing process that is never quite finished. It might be that the young person we educate today, that leaves us in a year’s time will be impactful in twenty to thirty years time because of an ongoing maturation process that was rooted in a particular educational approach, and it is the danger of schools that they are assessed only on the quantitative status of exam results.
What would you call the best thing about Aiglon’s work in this ethos?
Our purpose here is very broad. For me, the single best thing is that there isn’t a single best thing. There is a happy, collocation of things that are fabulous: our inspiring physical and natural environment, our diverse, international body of people and our living-out of an educational ideal that is broad enough to push beyond merely the extension of our mind and into the development of physical, moral and spiritual well being. In the spirit of the founding principles of the school, my answer has to be holistic. We are an intellectual community, we are an emotional community, we are physically active, we are a reflective community and we are a diversely representative community.
The world is not a static place. We have to retain a restlessness in our quest to see whether the education we provide is well-adapted to the world in which we live. So if I were to say the day every student passes every exam with top marks, does that mean my job is done? In terms of quantitative measures, I can’t do more than that, but that doesn’t speak to whether they are happy, communicative, creative, sensitive and motivated to make a difference.
If you ask a student what they value most, probably the most common answer I get is their friends. Children and humans are highly societal and highly dependent to create a persona in the lives of others. The art to building enduring friendships and human relationships is a really significant art of the boarding school environment, and one that is repeatedly referred to here at Aiglon as one of the highlights of the Aiglon experience.