Mary Van Der Heijden
Towards the end of 1999, during my second headship, I had the amazing opportunity to be interviewed by Martin Skelton and Graham Reeves to be the head of Panaga School, Brunei. These talented people made the interview interesting whilst being challenging, I was able to connect with people who shared my vision of international education and at the core was the exciting development of a new curriculum, the International Primary Curriculum (IPC).
The curriculum was originally written for the children of expat employees in 14 international schools around the world. In the interview, I recall how we talked about making learning relevant, global and interesting for children who did not all have a British heritage; how perhaps children from Nigeria or Oman dressing up as Victorian children to help them understand about Victorian Britain, was not the best way to invite and embed a love of learning about history! So just after the millennium, my husband and I moved with our two daughters (who were already third culture kids, having lived in Indonesia and Spain and had a Dutch/British/Irish heritage), to start the next exciting and challenging five years.
In the beginning, as with all schools going through change, it started with adapting the culture. For us at Panaga School the channel for the change was the introduction of the IPC, blending two streams, ‘Dutch’ and ‘English’ in terms of curriculum content, pedagogy, and collaboration. Some of you reading this will remember the huge great files of units sitting in classrooms and head teacher offices. No online members portal available at the time to access the units, resources, links and no Assessment for Learning documents. But there were clear learning goals and units (I think 12 in the beginning) that helped us shape what and how we would provide learning experiences across the year groups.
This was a great opportunity for collaboration and learning through enormous change. Training across schools, Malaysia and Brunei with Pam Harper, Martin Skelton and Graham Reeves. Writing and piloting of new units. Employing teachers of different heritage backgrounds. Input on writing rubrics for assessment for learning. Engaging parents in the classroom and contributing their own knowledge, skills and understanding. Developing the notion of collaboration between streams, year group and teaching assistants. Above all keeping learning at the very centre.
Through the IPC we were able to give a truly international feel to our school. Our teachers were recruited from different regions of the world and gained valuable professional development. Not only through training, but through contributing to writing units, assessments, continuously asking questions and being part of a learning focused wider community.
I was fortunate to be one of the first Head teachers to participate in IPC leadership training and subsequently became a trainer for IPC. Since leaving Panaga School, I have always been part of the International Primary Curriculum family through Fieldwork Education. Having led IPC Accreditations on four continents, trained teachers in more than 25 countries, written the first Olympics and World Cup units more than 10 years ago, I am delighted that my own daughter is possibly one of the first IPC alumni to have her first teaching role in a UK IPC school.
One of the most commendable aspects of the IPC community, has always been the drive to improve and get better. This has continued in the recent updates and developments, so despite many changes over the last twenty years, the foundations and key principles are maintained. My birthday thanks goes out to the IPC community, for twenty years I have had the privilege to grow and extend my own learning on a continuous basis to benefit others.
So Happy Birthday to the International Primary Curriculum and to the community of professionals who bring learning to all corners of the globe to inspire and motivate all!