30 minutes with…Ann Haydon MBE, Harrow International Hong Kong

After an impressive career in the UK, Ann Haydon has spent the last seven years embracing life and leadership in Hong Kong

Ann Haydon Harrow International Hong Kong

As a young university graduate, Ann Haydon was offered a job as an accountant at the London office of what is now KPMG. It was an exciting opportunity, with the potential for international travel.

Her parents ran a family haulage business, so juggling accounts was in her blood and her mother pushed her to take it.

But Ann had other ideas. Having completed a degree in economics and geography then a PGCE, she decided that the humble career of teaching might be where her true passion lay.

And indeed it was. Despite feeling “lukewarm” about the training, she says the moment she stepped in the classroom for real she “just loved it” and felt she had “found her niche”.

And, as it turns out, her career has been just as exciting and glamorous as any highflying accountant – probably far more.

“I was brought up with management accounts lying around on the kitchen table.”

During a career including over a decade at the Girls’ Day School Trust, a deputy headship at Guildford High School and a headship at Surbiton High School, she has been delighted by the opportunities available to her.

“I’ve had an amazing career. I’ve travelled the world, I’ve met Olympic sports men and women, I’ve met famous writers and actors, royalty, and had an incredible time going on numerous school trips all over the world.”

There has also of course been the joy of “seeing young people grow and develop and flourish and turn into amazing young people,” she says.

And she has gained national recognition for her work: In 2013 she was awarded a distinction in the Pearson UK Headteacher of the Year Awards for work in leadership, governance, teaching and learning and marketing. In 2012, Haydon and her senior leadership team at Surbiton High won the Independent Schools Association ‘Outstanding Senior Leadership Team of the Year’ award.

“I’m also very humbled by a lot of the people with whom I’ve been honoured to work, Some brilliant, dedicated staff. I feel very, very fortunate to have met such inspirational people,” she says.

“The MBE left me completely speechless.”

She also loves the business side of running a school: “I was brought up with management accounts lying around on the kitchen table and my parents after dinner talking about how to market the company and so on,” she says.

She has now been the head of Harrow International Hong Kong for the past seven years and was recently made an MBE in the New Year honours list. This, she says, was “completely unexpected” and left her “speechless”.

“It was such a surprise but a wonderful one,” she says, acknowledging that a headteacher does “nothing on their own”.

She is more passionate than ever about Hong Kong, where she lives with her husband and 17-year-old son and their chocolate labrador, Chico.

She says: “Despite what people hear and read in the media, it’s an amazing place to live and work and learn. It truly is where West and East meet. It’s an exciting, vibrant city. There are so many different things to do and you can jump on a plane and be in parts of Asia in a very short period of time so travel is very, very easy.”

“Hong Kong truly is where West and East meet.”

But her main focus in termtime is of course running the 3 to 18 school, which was founded in 2012 and now has just over 1600 pupils and 400 staff. Located on the site of a former army barracks in the New Territories, and the only British boarding and day school in the jurisdiction, it’s a big ship to sail.

Keeping everyone involved happy and well-served is a daily challenge as cultures mix and demands and expectations vary, but the challenges are no greater than anywhere else, she says.

The school has 400 boarders – the school operates on a weekly boarding basis – and the vast majority go back to their parents at the weekend.

Haydon has been overseeing a number of projects at the school, and they are especially proud of their new Leonardo Da Vinci STEAM centre.

“It’s a coming together of the arts and the sciences,” she says.

In the pre-prep and prep school, STEAM is built into the curriculum. Older students can choose to do it as part of their super curricular options.

She says: “It’s been a great success and all our children from our 3-year-olds all the way through to our 18-year-olds are exposed to STEAM activities. I am a great believer in subjects not working in silos, encouraging true scholarship and collaboration and being innovative and entrepreneurial.”

“The school is reviewing its curriculum this year, looking at the balance of subjects and the structure of the day.”

The school celebrated the first anniversary of the centre’s opening with a conference with expert speakers and representatives from around 40 schools in region.

She is also proud of the school’s super-curricular programme – which runs during the normal school timetable. Pupils choose activities around different headings such as “academic stretch and challenge”, “wellbeing” or “leadership”. Pupils have been involved in activities as diverse as investment banking and dissection to studying Philip Larkin’s poetry.

These activities run alongside an optional co-curricular programme and a tapestry of visiting speakers, trips and visits under the banner of its enrichment programme “Harrow Horizons”.

The school is also undertaking a curriculum review this year, looking at the balance of subjects and the structure of the school day.

“The school does not like to use the term ‘soft skills’.”

The school has consulted other top institutions in the world about how they organise their day, and canvassed the views of pupils, staff and parents.

“We’ve also talked to employers, some of the big firms in banking in medicine, the education sector and the business world. We’ve asked them about what sorts of people they want to recruit because we need to make sure that our young people have got the relevant skills and aptitudes to fulfil vacancies,” says Haydon.

The school does not like to use the term “soft skills” to describe traits such as leadership, the ability to be a team player and think critically.

“We call them that Harrow values, skills and attributes. They’re essential skills people will need,” she says.

Staff wellbeing, family-friendly policies and CPD are also key to the school.

“We’ve got over half of our staff who are on accredited professional development courses,” Haydon says, “it is something which is very important to us.”

Staff can take various “pathways” such as “aspiring leaders”, “middle leaders” or a research based project pathway.

So Haydon, as they say, is understandably busy.

But what does she do to relax?

“When you are a head hobbies are on hold,” she says, “but I do like travelling.”

In the school holidays, she makes the most of the location to explore the whole region, visiting New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Japan.

Her other interest – in good food and wine – can easily be indulged in Hong Kong itself.

“Believe me there are so many places to eat and drink,” she says with a twinkle in her eye.

Running one of the top schools in Asia and with a fresh MBE on her mantelpiece, Ann Haydon doesn’t regret turning down that career in accountancy.