International understanding, communication and collaborative working are the essential stock in trade of the successful diplomat. As these skills are being developed in pupils from the tender age of three at Felsted School in Essex, it’s no surprise that a steady stream of Felstedians find their calling in consulates around the globe.

Under an oak tree, a huddle of six-year-olds are puzzling over how to make a tennis ball roll smoothly along a course they must build themselves from lengths of plastic drainpipe, kitchen funnels and paper party cups.

It takes many unsuccessful attempts and quite a lot of enthusiastic and conflicting words of advice, but after 20 minutes there is cheering and self-congratulation as the ball skitters around the course and drops out of the final drainpipe into a shallow muddy puddle with a satisfying splash.

It may not be immediately apparent that in the woodland area surrounding Felsted Preparatory School in the north Essex countryside, these youngsters are being prepared for their future careers, particularly the Diplomatic Service, which is an increasingly popular ambition for Felsted’s school-leavers.

"These activities are superb preparation for adult life."

“By working in teams, towards a common goal, even children of four and five are beginning to develop their skills of communication and negotiation,” explains Simon James, head of Felsted Preparatory School.

“They also learn that each individual has a contribution to make and a point of view to offer and that he or she should have the confidence to put that across articulately and be heard. Activities such as this, in our Forest School sessions, are superb preparation for adult life and the wide variety of careers in which our pupils will find success and fulfilment.”

Indeed, these personal skills, coupled with a knowledge of the world and opportunities to meet and chat to people from other countries and cultures, means that Felsted students are well-equipped to take up international roles that offer a chance to make a real mark.

One former pupil who has certainly made the most of his Felsted education is Fergus Cochrane-Dyet OBE, most recently British High Commissioner to Zambia, who has enjoyed a 30-year career with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

“My path to a career as a diplomat most certainly began at Felsted,” says Fergus, who has also been High Commissioner to Liberia, Malawi, and the Seychelles, as well as Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Monrovia.

“There were so many opportunities at school to learn about the wider world,” he remembers, “but a seminal moment for me came at a sixth-form lecture delivered by an anthropologist about his fieldwork among the Nuri people of northeast Afghanistan.

"It made a huge impression on me and opened up my mind to the prospect of travel and adventure and the chance to make a positive impact on the world.”

"The values of leadership, service and community are very strong"

Only this year, the current crop of sixth-formers was left inspired and enlightened by a visit from another former Felsted student, Matthew Kirk, who spent several years as British Ambassador to Finland.

He struck a chord with Felsted’s Head Boy, Peter Hipkin, who was listening intently in the audience. “Matthew told us that, wherever Brexit may take us, there will be many more opportunities for negotiation and co-operation in the years to come and that’s what we are being prepared for here at Felsted,” says Peter.

“I would like to go into the civil service or government myself, and I can see that being educated at Felsted, which places such emphasis on development of character, is so beneficial. The activities that encourage internationalism, public speaking and co-operation with people you may not be familiar with, are probably the most important.”

Meanwhile, the school’s Head Girl, Sara Faraj, cites as one of the most significant experiences of her life so far her visit to Uganda last summer. On a project arranged by one of Felsted’s charities, Teach Uganda, Sara helped teach children and renovate their school. “The core values of leadership, service and community are very strong at Felsted,” she says. “My time in Uganda was unforgettable and has inspired me to want a career in the international community.”

Introducing even the youngest children to the world that lies beyond the school gates is a crucial part of an all-round, truly global education. The school is particularly well known for its annual Model United Nations (MUN) Conferences, which have run for the past 10 years, and regularly draw upwards of 100 senior students from the UK and abroad.

"Learning about other cultures is key to our ethos."

This year’s Conference focused on the challenge of sustainability and was attended by students from 19 schools, with teams representing each of the member nations for debates mirroring those taking place at the actual United Nations – an insight into the positive change that can be brought about through the collaborative effort of people from all corners of the world.

“Felsted’s Model United Nations encompasses every aspect of diplomacy, from research to public debate,” says Abe Reeve, who left Felsted three years ago and is in the process of applying to join the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

“The most important aspect of MUN is the diplomatic collaboration - diplomacy, definitionally, involves collaboration.

“Mental flexibility is also developed and I think that certainly stems from the way discourse is handled at Felsted, be that in the school forum, MUN or the various academic societies.

“There is definitely a mindset of internationalism throughout the school, which was accentuated in my own experience as an International Baccalaureate student.”

A total of 27 countries are represented in Felsted’s student body, which makes for a vibrant mix of cultural backgrounds in the classroom and also in the boarding houses. Three-quarters of Felsted students over the age of 13 board, whether for just a couple of nights a week or full-time.

“We are a truly international school,” says Felsted’s headmaster Chris Townsend. “Learning about other cultures, to better understand and empathise with people of all nationalities with the aim of working together, is key to the Felsted ethos and the education we offer.”

This really is the best preparation we can give our young people as they enter our increasingly globalised society to take up the roles that will make a positive difference in the world that will be their future.’