SPONSORED BY ROYAL GRAMMAR SCHOOL, GUILDFORD QATAR
Have you ever wondered how education has been adapting to changing realities? Well, we spoke to Thomas Rolt, Head of the Royal Grammar School, Guildford Qatar (RGS), to get his perspective. He shares his views on modern teaching styles, the integration of new technologies in the curriculum, and how it all aligns with the Qatar National Vision 2030.
Q: To start, could you give us a background on the RGS system and what led you to want to become the head of the school?
A: The reason I started at the school was that I was a parent first. I fell in love with the school as a dad when I first came here two years ago, with two children at the school. That was my first real exposure to the RGS tradition and curriculum and also how we deliver that curriculum here in Qatar. So, that’s kind of what led me to the position. I think the RGS rule fit my ethics, beliefs, and values. It was for that reason that I moved forward with it.
Q: Although it is a rich traditional school with a long history, you have taken many new approaches to teaching. In your professional opinion, what is it that most traditional school systems get wrong?
A: I am from Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is part of the UK, and the traditional school system is one that I was part of back when I was a student, and it was traditional in the truest sense. I went to a school where the teacher stood at the front of the class with a piece of chalk and taught while all of us listened. So that is the kind of system that I increasingly realised—as I moved into senior leadership positions—that I wanted to change. Moving from that system to a more dynamic educational environment is so critical for schools nowadays.
Q: Unlike the old-school methods, where you are stuck in a classroom all day, you believe it is vital to have an all-around, hands-on approach to teaching. How have you implemented this at RGS?
A: Education is all about the experience. It is about loving to learn. And that is something that RGS ensures that all our students are exposed to. I think it is important that the children do not just come to school as a mundane task but that they wake up each morning excited to come to our school. They should be excited to meet their friends and learn and get involved in the learning, which should be an experiential experience.
Q: And how do you keep that experience inclusive?
A: Well, we do it in several ways. I guess underpinning it all is making sure that our house system is weaved through the very fabric of what it means to be an RGS student. And regardless of where you come from, at RGS, you are part of a family, part of one of our six houses. This allows the students to gain ownership and to become part of something special. So, you might be at a school with many different nationalities, but when you are part of the house programme at our school, you become part of a small family.
Q: Can you expand on the house system and how students are allocated to different houses?
A: When a student comes to our school, we assign them to a house, and each of the houses is representative of the history of RGS back in the UK. We have six houses, and those six houses are represented through important scholars: Austen, Beckingham, Powell, Valpy, Nettles, and Hamonde. These are all surnames of influential people that ensured the survival of RGS in the UK when it was first built in Guildford. We recognise this as our heritage and history. But of course, we bring it into Qatar and the 21st century to ensure that our students feel part of it on an international basis. You will come into our school, and you will see and feel what it means to be part of our house system. We have intra-school competitions, which, of course, are tricky to hold with the current restrictions in place. But on our normal school days, we have competitions in swimming, gymnastics, rugby, golf, football, and equestrianism.
Q: RGS has recently partnered with Volkswagen. What does that mean for the students?
A: This is an initiative that we started this year with Volkswagen Enterprise from Germany. Volkswagen is working towards autonomous technologies in Qatar and will be delivering autonomous vehicles and technologies from 2022 and beyond. It is something that I am excited to be part of because it allows us to bring our lessons to life. It means that if you are taking, for example, design technology lessons or electronics or engineering, you would see what the current challenges are in the real world. And Volkswagen is facing those challenges head-on and offering new solutions, so why wouldn’t we want to be part of that as a school? When I taught, back in the day, I was a technology teacher, and while it was fantastic to learn about woodwork and build traditional products, I think technology has moved online. And this reflected in the school’s investment in our new secondary school systems.
Volkswagen will be coming on board, sponsoring our creative engineering faculty, and ensuring that the students’ projects are done live. So, our students will work directly with them. We are excited about Volkswagen, of course, but also Qatar University. They have an outstanding dean product at the faculty, and it is enabling us to build relationships that our students are exposed to. They get to learn what STEM means and what it stands for, which is crucial. We interweave all STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) to ensure that the children’s education is a 21st-century one that equips them with skills they will need in the future. This prepares them for future jobs and challenges that currently might not exist.
Additionally, this partnership reflects the Qatar National Vision 2030, which envisions a knowledge-based economy for us and ties in with the ongoing development of Lusail, a smart city. We want to be a smart school, and the application and approaches that we are taking, I believe, will allow us to achieve that.
Q: Speaking of change, climate change is one of the biggest existential threats facing our planet. Would you say that your school is striving to be green and teach students the importance of taking care of the planet?
A: When I took the headship here at RGS Qatar, I made sure that technology, sustainability, and an equal growth awareness for our students were at the heart of how we move forward with our curriculum. We are currently working with our students, and it is all about them. It is about how they gain an understanding of what it means to be a global citizen. We take our values from our history and build them into a 21st-century learning environment. They do not just learn about the ecology of a place or the ecology of the environment around them, they are immersed in it, and that is what I want for RGS. And we have already started making those strides. They take responsibility for the curriculum—they will go outside into the RGS garden and take responsibility for it. They start understanding why a sunflower faces its own way at the end of the day. Yes, you can learn that in a book, but our students go out each day.
So, each of our classes has been assigned a plant area, a growing area, but they make sure it is cultivated and harnessed, so it flourishes. This way, they grow to really appreciate ecology and understand it, which then comes back into science lessons and awareness of how something needs to be taken care of. And teamwork is key in that process. Another example is the school’s own ecology: how does the school deliver sustainable growth over the next 15 years? Because that’s what we’re looking for, we’re looking into the future, and it’s about bringing in different ways of learning.
Q: Finally, how do you predict the school system could change in the next decade or so?
A: The Ministry of Education and Higher Education’s groundbreaking work in Qatar undoubtedly continues to drive up success. We have recently had our own visits from the Ministry, and we are extremely happy with the outstanding reports we received. So, it is clear that Qatar is driving towards a knowledge-based economy, which is critical for our students. But internationally, what does education look like in the future? We need to be forward-facing with how we deliver it and continue to look at learning without walls to understand how children learn best. This is so important that I aligned RGS Qatar’s vision with both international learning and what’s essential here in Qatar. If I try to tie it up, we have got 500 years of heritage behind us, and we’re looking at the next 500 years and making sure that RGS Qatar continues on this path of development in line with our sister schools.
Thomas Rolt has been working in education for 18 years, nine of which have been in Qatar. He is married to Fiona and has three amazing boys. He is excited to lead RGS Qatar through its current transition into an outstanding, inclusive 3–18 school over the next three years, delivering the British curriculum in an internationally-minded learning environment. To learn more about Mr Rolt and his work at RGS Qatar, visit the school’s website at rgsgq.com.