Shaping the international leaders of the future

Education ·

SUR in English brought together representatives of three schools to discuss how children are best prepared for university and the workplace

Rachel Haynes

Monday, 13 March 2023, 11:19


Independence, social skills, critical thinking, responsibility, creativity, imagination, adaptability and, of course, academic excellence.

Those are some of the shared goals of the three committed professionals who got together on Monday morning this week for a webinar to discuss how their schools are shaping the leaders of the future, and, in the process, helping to create a better world.

Sunny View School

Victoria Midmer is headteacher at Sunny View School in Torremolinos, a family school founded 55 years ago. Today, with some 800 students of around 40 nationalities and ages ranging between one and 18, the school offers a British education, teaching the English national curriculum as well as offering the Spanish secondary education certificate.

“We prioritise relationships between students, teachers and parents,” said the headteacher, adding, “The fact that many of the parents of our current students came to the school themselves is a reflection of the excellent reputation the school has.”

Sunny View is one of the original members of Nabss (National association of British schools inSpain) as well, as being accredited by the Spanish ministry of education, and stands on a spacious site in El Pinillo, just outside the town.

“We foster a positive, challenging and stimulating environment where the children are confident, independent learners”

Victoria Midmer

Headteacher, Sunny View School

Almuñécar International School

Fiona Jacobs is headteacher at Almuñécar International School, a smaller British school with 255 students on the Costa Tropical, just across the Malaga-Granada provincial border. The school was set up in 1989 by a group of parents, some of whom are still involved today, this time, taking their grandchildren.

With children aged between three and 18, the school offers the British curriculum as well as Spanish language and Spanish culture. “We try to give a wide range of subject options to give maximum opportunities,” said Jacobs.

She added that the school uses the strong image of “roots and wings: roots to create a sense of belonging , ideas, security, confidence; and wings where we encourage students to make choices.”

“One of the main things is opening eyes to what is available, allowing them to have open-mindedness and preparing them for the world of work”

Fiona Jacobs

Headteacher, Almuñécar International School

Phoenix College Málaga

James Riley is one of the three co-directors of Phoenix College Málaga, a small sixth form college in the city centre.

Formed in the 2017-2018 school year, this “bridge between school and university” is unique inSpain, explained Riley. The college offers British A-level subjects as well as the Spanish PCE courses, so that students can go on to universities in Spain, Britain, Ireland, USA and around Europe. The school’s directors and the rest of the teachers have all been in Malaga for more than 20 years, explained Riley, offering vast experience to their 35 to 40 students divided between Year 12 and 13, a number that “is perfect for us”, he added.

“Many parents feel that Phoenix College is the go-to place for a sixth form education in Malaga, a bridge between school and university”

James Riley

Co-director, Phoenix College Málaga

All three teachers taking part in this webinar explained how delighted they were to have returned to all the usual pre-pandemic activities this current school year after three years affected in one way or another by lockdowns, restrictions and precautionary measures.

“It’s been great to be able to welcome parents again so they can see the work the children are doing,” said Midmer of Sunny View School, adding that this year the school will be holding its first spring fair since the pandemic in May, as well as a summer show.

Similarly, at Almuñécar InternationalSchool, the students are preparing for their annual drama production, a musical involving a range of ages to be held in the local Casa de la Cultura in June.

An achievement this year at Almuñécar has been getting permission to install a lift for students and staff with mobility problems. The school has also been given permission by the Spanish authorities to increase its numbers.

One of the highlights of this school year at Phoenix College, explained Riley, is their support for Malaga’s bid to host Expo 2027, whose theme is centred around a sustainable city.

“We went to meet the mayor of Malaga to talk about the idea of the project,” he explained, adding that the experience and field trips are being integrated into the Geography A-level course where the students study an urban regeneration project.


For Sunny View School, this is a year in which technology has gained greater importance. For headteacher Midmer, a positive side to the pandemic is that it has encouraged the use of technology in preparation for a world in which remote working is becoming more and more common.

“We are preparing students for jobs that probably don’t even exist yet,” said Midmer. “Technology continues to advance at a phenomenal rate worldwide and the better we can equip our students now the more capable they will be of entering competitive job markets later on,” she said, adding that now the school takes a blended approach to learning, using a giant touch screen and laptops in the classroom.

Headteacher of Almuñécar International School, Fiona Jacobs, agreed that Covid had pushed schools into realising how much of a role technology is playing in lives today and in response to that all the school’s teachers are currently involved in a professional development project with Google to help improve teaching and learning.

“Technology is very important and we have to make sure we are adjusting to the changes to prepare for future careers,” said Riley Riley of Phoenix College, where students and staff are currently busy analysing January’s exam results and preparing university applications.

“The fact that many of the parents of our current students came to the school themselves is a reflection of the excellent reputation the school has”

Victoria Midmer

Headteacher, Sunny View School

Career paths

Guiding students in their decisions of what to study and which career path to pursue is one of the main challenges facing the world of education.

In the case of Phoenix College, Riley explained that the teachers have a wealth of experience in preparing students for UCAS applications to UK universities as well as those in Spain and other countries.

However, while some are pursuing a specific career path, such as medicine, for Riley the important thing is for students to be prepared to be flexible, as many may not go into a job that is specific to their studies. “Employers are looking for students who can adapt to the ever-changing world of work,” he said.

“One of the main things is opening their eyes to what is available,” said Jacobs of Almuñécar International School, who explained that students from the school had won sports scholarships to the US and Madrid, and that 95 per cent of the students went on to university.

Inviting former students and parents into school to talk about their progress and careers and help inspire children is a tool used by all three schools.

Midmer said that Sunny View School helps children decide what they want to do by showing them the options available to them. When children are choosing their GCSE, A-level and higher education options, visiting speakers and careers fairs as well as advice from the careers adviser are important.

Jacobs of Almuñécar InternationalSchool said that it was important to “allow them to have that open-mindedness, giving them skills, preparing them for the world of work.”

“Phoenix College gives students independence and freedom but with that comes responsibility for their own learning”

James Riley

Co-director, Phoenix College Málaga

Outside experiences

The webinar also looked at how students’ experiences outside school can be incorporated into the classroom.

Use of internet and social media is a big part of children’s lives and schools do their bit to offer guidance to families.

Fiona Jacobs explained that Almuñécar InternationalSchool wants to ensure that internet use is a positive and safe experience and holds sessions for parents so they can understand technology to support their children, rather than being afraid of it.

At Sunny View, explained Victoria Midmer, they have a visit from the police who talk to students about the safe use of internet.

With internet comes the use of artificial intelligence and the teachers discussed the use of ChatGPT, which can provide a perfect essay, a technological development that “we can’t avoid” according to Jacobs. While students should not use it for their course work AI could be used as a revision aid, she added.

Riley of Phoenix College agreed that “we have to embrace” this new type of technology. “Students might be able to use them as a base for essays but then they need to build on those essays,” he added. “The students have to do an exam and they won’t have that technology in an exam. Exams are based on merit, to examiners they are just a number.”

Midmer of Sunny View spoke of the importance for children to have interests outside school . “You have to enrich your life as much as you can. You have to teach the children to balance their school and personal life,” she said.

“It’s hugely important to appreciate talents the students have outside school and praise them,” said Fiona Jacobs, adding that the school has seen musicians and sports people of a very high level and the school has wanted to promote that.

All of the three participants in the webinar were keen to stress how a variety of activities all helped stimulate students to make the most of their education.

Almuñécar International School has just had a video exchange with a school in France to make the language learning more real, explained Jacobs.

Sunny View School has it own allotment where children grow vegetables, added Midmer, as well as chickens and rabbits. Outdoor activity is an integral part of the Early Years curriculum, added Victoria.

Trips are of course a vital complement to classroom work. Just last weekend, Jacobs said, a group of Year 13 students from Almuñécar InternationalSchool had come back from an English literature visit to Dublin, where they had visited Trinity College to get a taste of university life.

“It’s important that children are seeing what they learn in the classroom in the real world,” said Victoria of Sunny View School.

James Riley stressed that, as well as field trips, Phoenix College students have a wealth of cultural experience on their doorstep in the centre of Malaga.

“Critical thinking is something we work very hard on so that students are not manipulated, they have their own ideas they can evaluate situations”

Fiona Jacobs

Headteacher, Almuñécar International School

“They have the independence to go to the local library which is two minutes away, to go for a coffee, to a gallery, and as teachers we can incorporate that into the lessons,” he said.

“Phoenix College gives students independence and freedom but with that comes responsibility for their learning. In that way students are preparing for university,” said Riley.

Giving the students the opportunity to do things they wouldn’t normally do to see what they might want to do in the future is also high up on all of the three schools’ priority lists.

Both James Riley of Phoenix College and Victoria Midmer of Sunny View School gave the example of sending debating teams to the European Youth Parliament event, which facilities the acquisition of political and social skills.

“At Sunny View we have employed a programme which promotes debate, discussion, dialogue, role play, enquiry... so they leave school as confident and articulate adults,” said Midmer.

“Praising and motivating them is so key,” added Jacobs of Almuñécar International School. “They need encouraging. If you can’t do it today, you will be able to do it tomorrow.”

Critical thought

As well as making sure learning is interesting and fun, James Riley stressed the importance of practical classes, especially in sciences, and critical thinking. “It’s so important; students must embed it into the way they think and their education. We need to make sure they are always thinking, how can I improve?”

Jacobs agreed: “Critical thinking is something we work very hard on so that students are not manipulated, they have their own ideas they can evaluate situations.”

“I hope we are helping to develop students who are thoughtful , who are good citizens, who will be thinking of the planet, sustainability of all those key issues that we are presenting them with, so they are aware of areas of development in the world. We want students to be safe, secure, happy and ready to learn.

Midmer of Sunny View concluded: “We have to make sure we are fostering a positive, challenging and stimulating environment where the children are confident, independent learners, learning core values such as resilience, integrity, commitment to excellence in terms of academics, rigour, diligence, empathy.”

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