When the children of the Britannica International School, Budapest returned to lessons on January 3, they were not just starting a new calendar year, but also a new chapter. For also starting on that day was the new principal, Neil McGarry.
“It made for an interesting Christmas, traveling across Europe in freezing weather conditions,” says McGarry, 45. “It is somewhat unusual to start in January [rather than September, at the start of the academic year], but it also offers different opportunities. ‘New Year, New Beginnings’ has been the theme of some of my assemblies.”
The British-born principal came to Budapest from Guernsey, making the contrast between a Channel Island with 27 beaches and landlocked Hungary quite marked, but he says the transition to a country he had never been to before has been smooth.
“My first visit was for the interview in June. It has been a pleasant surprise; Budapest is an incredible city. I grew up just north of London, so I am familiar with city life and discovering Budapest has been a fascinating experience. There is so much to see and do with the family at weekends, and public transport is easy and convenient to use.”
Having moved with his wife and son (who has joined Year 6 at the school), the familiarity and comfort of a new home is vitally important, but so is the workplace. Britannica takes children from 5-18, follows the British national curriculum and is fully accredited by the Council of British International Schools. The school roll has been rising and this year saw a double class entry into Year 7, which is the start of the secondary phase. That is now true of all years from Year 1 through to Year 7. The school expects this double entry to continue throughout the secondary section.
With 49 nationalities on the roll, McGarry says that what really impressed him when he visited was the strong family atmosphere. “There seems to be genuine respect among students, and between pupils and staff and between teachers and parents,” he says. The academic results are good too. “Our results are consistently higher than the U.K. average and our students go on to attend prestigious universities around the globe. To be precise, 32% of our International General Certificates of Secondary Education (IGCSEs) in 2016 were at ‘A’ or ‘A*’ last year.”
The combination of academic results and family atmosphere make for a compelling mix, the principal says. “The design of the school and its location up in the hills are really special, but what sets us apart, I’d say, is the high standard of academia and the strong family and community feel and atmosphere. There is a genuine three-way partnership between the school, the pupils and the parents.”
Britannica is part of Orbital Education Ltd., a U.K.-based group of schools that offers its own network of support. In the future, says McGarry, “Children will be able to connect through a ‘virtual learning environment’, while staff will share best practices among nine other schools across the world. It is a development that we are very excited about”.
McGarry sums up the challenge he faces as maintaining the growth that the school has achieved over the past six years. “We have a significant waiting list. We are a very good school and so many parents want their children to come here that catering for them all is difficult, but we will do whatever is required to meet the needs of our students, parents and wider school community.”