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Harrow Beijing: New Campus, Brighter Future

May, 2013
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This is a historic and very exciting term for everyone in the community of Harrow International School Beijing – the whole school moved to its new purpose-built modern campus at the end of March.

After eight years, two Olympics, three campuses and nearly 800 students, it’s as if everything just happened yesterday.

img_7378Matthew Farthing, Headmaster of Harrow Beijing is now the longest serving international school headmaster in Beijing. He came to Beijing in 2004 with the big idea of establishing the Harrow International School Beijing after serving as the founding Headmaster of Harrow’s first international school in Bangkok, which was opened in January 1998.

“I was chosen to lead the development of the project. I had the experience of opening a new school overseas and I was incredibly enthusiastic about it,” Farthing recalls.

On the last day of moving at the Upper School at Anzhen Xili, Harrow’s first Beijing campus, Farthing was sitting alone in his office, thinking quietly. The noise of students busily packaging their books and materials in the classrooms and in the corridor didn’t seem to bother him at all. Maybe it was the freezing winter renovating the classrooms; maybe it was setting off Peace Balloons on the sports field; or maybe it was the Winter Fayre and Concert of Carols… As the students were about to get on the buses, Farthing came out to the entrance to talk to them and say goodbye as he did every day. The birthplace of Harrow Beijing surely holds so many bittersweet memories.

“Naturally, you felt something when leaving the place where people have been living and have contributed. I think at any point in time we are a mixture of where we come from and where we plan to go. When you leave that building, it makes you reflect on where you come from and makes you more committed to where you are going. The moment of closing the Anzhen Xili campus is also the start of our splendid purpose-built campus at He Gezhuang.”

Meeting Farthing took place in the middle of the second week after the whole school moved to its new site. The lobby was still crowded with new furniture and school supplies coming in, but everyone in the school was very pleased to be moving over to the new lakeside campus. Students are excited about the climbing wall in the gym, the two swimming pools and the new catering company who are working exclusively for Harrow. Parents are particularly pleased about the indoor air filtration, huge new library space and learning lounge as well as the state-of-the-art science labs, the fitness gym and the dance studios and the indoor garden space in the Early Years Centre.

“The new campus is the beginning of another phase for the school’s development,” says Farthing. Looking back, he thinks the old campus with limited space in some way allowed the school to dig deeper roots and really focus on the core academic values of the school. It was actually beneficial for a new school to experience that kind of slower start and growth. It definitely brings about more stable medium and long-term prosperity.

“We have already got our graduating class with students going to Oxford and Cambridge and Princeton, Yale and many other elite universities worldwide. With that previous success, we move to this new campus with extended opportunities ahead. The distinction of quality which defines Harrow, the pursuit of our mission ‘Leadership for a better world,’ our commitment to academic excellence supported by close personal tutoring and the wide range of enrichment activities evident across all phases of the school will rise to even higher levels in the years to come at He Gezhuang.”

One of the greatest things about the new campus is that it brings the Lower School and Upper School together in one spot. That means the opportunity for younger and older children to work together in house competitions as well as supporting each other’s learning everyday.

It also builds a special sense of belonging to the Harrow community. The beautiful gated campus is safe and welcoming, relating to the landscape and all-round visibility on the lake and trees. The mountain views also offer a sense of liberation for the mind!

With these state-of-the-art facilities, Harrow is now ready to host more inter-school events. The FOBISSEA games were held there in the week of 17 March. On 30 March, Harrow Beijing hosted a joint concert with the Chamber Orchestra from Harrow School in London. The annual Harrowthon was held on 21 April with hundreds of Harrow students, teachers and friends of Harrow running across the brand new campus and through the neighboring He Gezhuang Village to raise money for the Children’s Hope charity.

Farthing says the connection with the local community as well as the connection with other schools, especially Harrow schools in London, Bangkok and Hong Kong has been strengthened every year. A few weeks earlier, some Year 9 students of Harrow Beijing went to Harrow School in London, Hong Kong and Bangkok as part of an exchange program. Harrow teachers also moved from one school to the other. It wasn’t a cultural tour – the students actually stayed at the school and joined the school community for a few weeks, studying with them. All Harrow schools support the idea of having young students move between the schools as part of their education with a unique studying experience in Hong Kong, Bangkok and London and perhaps other possible future locations as well.

The growth and changes of Harrow International School Beijing are a live reflection of the school’s guiding statement ‘Leadership for a Better World.’ In many ways, ‘a better world’ means improvement while leaders are the people who make improvements, whether it is to improve themselves or improve others or the environment. Harrow has a series of value statements such as ‘facing challenges with determination’, and ‘solving problems with collaboration and creativity.’ These value statements are also about thinking how people work and how to make improvements. And these values give Harrow education its unique identity.

“I think if one child comes out of Harrow and they are more self-aware, they know how to operate with others and they know how to operate on themselves and they know how they can make things better, that is a good achievement,” says the Headmaster. “It is reconciling the very high ideals of school values with reality.”

When asked to project the future development of the school, the Headmaster says, “It is difficult to say what the future holds. I still maintain a dream that we establish Harrow in Beijing for hundreds of years to come. Harrow School in London has been running for more than 400 years. Harrow Beijing is just over eight years old. Harrow is now one good international school in Beijing and it still has a long way to go to become a truly outstanding school.”

And so now the excitement really begins…



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