Hot Seat: Damien Charnock

The new headmaster of Dulwich College Shanghai talks to Time Out Family

Damien Charnock is the new headmaster of one of Shanghai's most established international schools, Dulwich College Shanghai. He tells Time Out Family why competition is a good thing and the secret of a good school

How did you become headmaster of Dulwich?

I was appointed September 2014 fresh from London where I had been headmaster of Wilson’s School for the previous 15 years. Dulwich was introduced to me in 2013, so I came and visited. I liked it, they liked me, that’s how it all came about. 

Had you been considering teaching abroad?
I had been thinking about it and had been looking at various possibilities, but this is my first international experience 

What appeals to you about an international position?
The school is the most important aspect and Dulwich is a particularly interesting one in many ways. It’s the sort of school I’ve always taught in: large focus on academic achievement together with a very broad base of extracurricular and co-curricula programmes. It’s a very attractive school to be head of and that's the key. It’s the fact that the school is very attractive, rather than the city or country.

Although I’m very happy to be in Shanghai, which is an extremely interesting and stimulating city. But, I enjoy travelling and have a long-standing interest in Asia, too.

What sort of interest?
A general cultural interest. My family has history in southeast Asia, so the region has always had a certain pull.

What particular history is that?
I was brought up in Malaysia where my parents lived for many, many years.

What was your favourite subject at?
I studied philosophy at university, but at school it were arts subjects – Latin, Music and English – that I enjoyed most.

Was there a reason the arts were appealing?
Probably a combination of who were the teachers and the topics we were covering. My parents were very arty people, too, though my brother is a straight-up scientist, so you can’t be too deterministic.

How would you describe yourself as a schoolboy?
I’m not sure….  A naughty schoolboy reformed into an exemplary headmaster? If I were I don’t think I’d be confessing it! I was of course an exemplary student in every way.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
Nothing I’d ever put in print!

What about your happiest moment from your schooldays?
There were numerous. Probably the things you remember generally: your friends, school trips. We’re talking 40 or so years ago and people didn’t travel as much in those days. To be able to go away at all was a big deal.

Do you perceive education to be different in Shanghai?
I think good schools have common features wherever they are. The things that make good schools are universal – good teaching, good processing, good assessment, lively and engaged children, a wide range of activities. There’s nothing too mysterious about good schools.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the pupils most, to be honest. I enjoy the pleasure of interaction with students. I enjoy seeing students do well and enjoy their life at school. My job as far as I’m concerned is to make their school experience as rewarding as it can be. To ensure they’re successful, obviously, but to ensure their experience is as good as it can be.

What are you hopes for the school in the future?
I want the school to be as good as it possibly can be. It’s already very good, so there aren’t radical changes to be made. But there are always developments that can take place. I’d particularly like to see us develop other aspects of the extracurricular programme. Those are very important to students, so I want to see if we can develop those more strongly.

It’s an increasingly competitive market in Shanghai, it must be hard to stay at the forefront?
I believe competition is a good thing, and I come from a very competitive market back in London. I think the secret is simply that competition forces you to be as good as you can be. It’s nothing to be worried about. There’s more international growth coming into Shanghai, especially Pudong, so that will bring in further expatriate companies and families, so I think Dulwich will continue to grow.