Since 2019, Mr Howard Tuckett MA HDE. Well-versed in primary schools. Previous headships include a number of reputable UK independent prep schools, most latterly fourteen years at Caterham Prep.
His calm, unwavering, all-encompassing attention is evident from the moment you step into his presence. A personal tour (our first by a head) affirms he knows the school intimately. The students feel relaxed with him too, the lovely wide smiles and big waves on our school tour support parent talk of his popularity even if, in his own words, he needs to ‘beetle his brows’ every now and then.
A UK national, he moved to South Africa aged eleven (a slight accent still evident), where he completed his education and teacher qualification. He cut his teeth in Natal prep schools before the instability of the country in the 1990’s put a halt to this. After trying his hand at life insurance, he returned to teaching in the safer but more remote area of Botswana.
Masters (education) from The Open University whilst simultaneously working within the independent school sector. Inspector for the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), a member of Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS), a governor and mentor for independent prep school heads among his achievements.
Hong Kong came at a stage in life which suited him. His wife (still working at his former school, Caterham Prep) and grown-up son and daughter all back in the UK, he had plans to visit them each holiday. The pandemic put a spanner in the works when travel became restricted but his devotion to the school didn’t waver.
His office, the control room, is adjacent to the entrance, allowing him to have a beady eye from his ergonomic desk on all comings and goings. Described by parents in the same breath as ‘kind and strict’, he is assertive when he needs to be. A ‘real educator’ he visibly thrives off chatting with his students from the moment they arrive each morning.
Classed as a private rather than international school, it is not bound by nationality quotas, removing the competitive and often stressful entrance process for the many local families vying for spots (as seen at other international schools).
Age-appropriate assessments - parents say applicants are put at ease. Play assessment to determine social skills and levels of English and Mandarin for those in year 1-3, written assessments covering English, maths, non-verbal reasoning, CAT 3 and 4 tests for the upper years, plus an interview with the headmaster. Basic knowledge of English is necessary but not essential, the school has an excellent EAL programme.
Numbers on the increase, rolling admissions through the year.
Prepares pupils for entry into secondary school at the end of year 8. More than half (majority girls) move off to boarding schools in the UK. Girls typically to Badminton, Benenden, Roedean, Woldingham, Rugby; boys to Clifton College, Rugby, Westonbirt.
A smattering head elsewhere, including as far afield as Holland, Portugal, Singapore and Argentina. Those that stay on home soil enter ESF schools, Kellett, Harrow or Malvern.
The school prepares children for common entrance through an extracurricular club. Head personally oversees each leaver, picking up the phone to potential schools, advising on suitable applications, which are sometimes contrary to the high expectations of over-achieving parents.
No automatic entrance into Wycombe Abbey UK, students must fight tooth and nail to gain a coveted place just like any other applicant. The school prides itself that its students can hold their own (two out of the four spots awarded last year in Hong Kong went to its students). Entrance into the other Wycombe Abbey family group of schools in China (Changzhou, Hangzhou and Nanjing) a given.
Teaching and Learning
UK curriculum a draw for many parents, particularly for local families looking beyond to British secondary schools. Most teachers drawn from the UK, Chinese teachers recruited from Hong Kong or China. Occupying a niche market as one of only two prep schools in Hong Kong, the school attracts the best staff without the need to fight for them (the collapse of a third prep school meant numerous teachers were in the marketplace at the right time). Open teaching contracts equals committed teachers and a settled environment. Small classes are also attractive, parents tell us.
Provision of iPads in the classroom (a learning tool), the school recently recognised as a Microsoft Flagship school for education innovation. Homework dished out from the word go, thirty minutes per day for those in years 1-3 (‘not overwhelming,’ say parents), increasing to one hour for those in year 5 upwards, including manageable project-based work. The school makes no bones about ‘drawing on the very best teaching practices and tradition of Wycombe Abbey in the UK’. Academics are strong, without being a hothouse, students keep up.
Holds its own in the academic arena, the recent UNESCO debating competition saw students pitted against three large international schools in the final - they won. Similarly, the ‘Shakespeare for All’ competition saw a sweep of silverware.
Chinese Putonghua (simplified and traditional) streamed into native and non-native classes - drawing from his own unsettled experience of a bilingual education, head was clear that the school would not have a bilingual offering. Chinese, English and Maths are given equal lesson time each week.
Additional modern languages (French, Italian and Spanish) being considered (currently offered as extra-curricular activities ECA’s). Maths is streamed, support available to those who need it or small group extension for those who strongly perform.
Learning Support and SEN
No great capacity but can provide strategies to children to help them cope. The learning co-ordinator gives support one on one or in small group work in class. A talented and gifted program runs alongside.
The school openly provides English support with an intensive option in years 3 to 6 run across two terms. Content subjects drop away until English is mastered, an attractive option for those who arrive with very little English.
The Arts and Extracurricular
Corridors full of student artwork, school's UK and Chinese heritage similarly played upon - think pictures of the Queen juxtaposing Chinese cartoon dragon sculptures. Ditto the library, Chinese and English books side by side. It all seems very natural. The art room (one of two) is a calm and quiet space enhanced by a generous outside space filled with an abundance of plants.
STEAM lab located on the top floor; the trek alone is worth it for those little legs, the latest technology is in place. Extremely popular too (mentioned endlessly as a standout favourite, as is the teacher) and children make daily pilgrimages. I-steam students took part in possibly the most exciting event: house drone Quidditch. Children designed and produced goals and wands, drones employed as snitches. Excitement levels off the charts, house competition taken to another level.
The mandatory annual musical in the auditorium (across year groups) - this year Beauty and the Beast and Phantom of the Opera - is hotly anticipated by parents who are just as proud of their children in star roles or inanimate parts. Music lessons held onsite with external providers who, parents are quick to point out, make the right pairing of instrument with student. Concerts held throughout the year, varying degrees of ability on show making it real.
Over 50 extracurricular activities in one-hour blocks, after school from 3-5pm, and includes a homework club. Youngest years advised against everyday involvement, those in the upper years take as many as they want, though we heard a few parent pleas for a more diverse offering across the years.
Space is limited, there are no large spaces for gyms, swimming pools and running tracks, rather tentacles reach out into community areas for outdoor spaces. The school pitch on the roof of an adjacent multistorey car park is accessed via a link bridge from the school. No shade, this hot space allows children to run around on the Astro and let off steam (literally). Moving down to the ground floor a hard court, located across the way from the main entrance, is used for break, PE lessons, football and netball. Owned and operated by the government it is shared with the local community, priority given to WASHK.
Back on campus, the high-ceilinged atrium houses a full-scale climbing wall (the highest in Hong Kong, ten grades of difficulty). Highly popular with the students, though only two at a time - there are smaller bouldering walls for those too impatient to wait.
School teams are limited (football and basketball), parents aren’t jumping up and down at the indignity of it all, many are members of country clubs, making use of their facilities and joining club sports.
Ethos and Heritage
Established in 2019, it was the second of four schools within the portfolio of Wycombe Abbey International. A turbulent opening, it ‘limped’ through its first term. Three years of disruption from protests and a pandemic rocked, not sunk, this little school. A deeply rooted heritage lends support to its backbone, the school often rides on the tailcoat of its highly prestigious sister school in the UK, attracting families for its internationally recognised academia and outstanding examination results - appealing to the go-getting crowd who make up a rather large percentage here. To date, the planned launch of a secondary school in Hong Kong has been put on hold.
A diamond in the rough, located in the local area of Tin Wan on the southside of Hong Kong Island and housed within a repurposed shopping centre, it strangely works. Parent appeal: clean, bright, and comfortable campus and it seems wherever you are on campus you always end up in the library - by chance or clever design? Classrooms on multiple levels surround the glass-ceilinged central atrium, radiating light to all floors. This central space acts as an auditorium, atrium, climbing wall, gymnasium, performance space and whatever else the school can utilise it for.
Classrooms for the youngest years are set back from the atrium, on the ground floor, keeping them separate. First-rate science and STEAM labs, art and large music rooms (no scrimping on instruments), the library as well as the drama and dance studio are scattered throughout the building.
Hot food (cooked off site) has been re-instated thanks to a new caterer, much to student excitement. The school bus is mandatory, to avoid traffic jams (parents opt out with head’s permission), it’s pick up and drop off point directly outside the school ensures a safe and swift delivery and exit.
The school is one of two British prep schools established in Hong Kong, refreshingly the heads both happy to share best practices whilst highlighting their USPs.
Pastoral Care, Inclusivity and Discipline
Manners and discipline are important here, eg head hot on those with untucked shirts. Parents tell us that teachers help build confidence and are ‘on it’ including the head, whom many feel that they can approach with an issue. Good communication from teachers (same day) means parents feel informed and incidents dealt with quickly. Parents say they don’t over escalate or hide responsibilities.
Pupils and Parents
Predominantly affluent and well-educated Hong Kong families with one or both parents educated abroad; loyal, appreciative, and effusive. Parents happy to access excellent primary education, steeped in UK history, without the waiting lists and expatriate shenanigans experienced at other schools.
Parent power rules here, word of mouth is strong among the local community - many families know others before joining or encourage others to apply. Parents describe themselves as ‘tight knit’. Class rep for each class, they form their own social groups and ensure no one is out of the loop, key information shared via WhatsApp.
No official buddy system in place (small class sizes mean that students know each other quickly), rather students are assigned someone to show them around on the first day and to answer questions. During pandemic years, many had to make friends across Zoom, the school facilitated as much as they could. Families tell us the transition is ‘seamless’, with school proactive in educating students on different cultures and religions, inclusivity and diversity at the forefront.
Optional nomination rights (debentures) - corporate or individual – are available giving suitable precedence to those that can afford this, sibling priority too. A mandatory annual capital levy is in place, those under nomination rights exempt from this.
The Last Word
A small British prep school with a decidedly distinct local flavour and big heart. Individual guidance and genuine care from the head for all year 8 leavers creates a wow factor in our eyes.