Meet Discovery Bay International School Principal, Mr Morris
Hong Kong/ Ohana/ Family

Meet Discovery Bay International School's New Principal, Marc Morris

Header Meet Discovery Bay International School Principal Marc Morris

January 2023 was a milestone month for Discovery Bay International School (DBIS). Not only did the Lantau-based school celebrate its 40th anniversary, but it also welcomed its sixth principal: Mr. Marc Morris. One term into his new role, Mr. Morris spoke to The Beat Asia to share his first impressions, and his plans for the school’s future.

Where are you originally from, and how long have you been in the education industry?

I was born and brought up in the northwest of England. Originally from Liverpool, I went to school in Cheshire and then stayed in the north of England for university. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a teacher, so after my history degree I did a PGCE. I started teaching in 1983, which is the same year DBIS opened, so professionally we're the same age!

What inspired you to work in education?

I genuinely enjoyed going to school. My father was also a teacher, so I had an insight into the industry and knew lots of teachers outside of the ones who taught me. I loved my degree subject – history – and I really enjoyed working with young people. After my PGCE, I got a job teaching in a school in Essex and knew within, probably, four or five weeks that it just felt like home.

When did your international career begin?

Technically 2011, when I came to be principal at Sha Tin College, but I think the impetus behind that came from when I was running a grammar school in the UK and led two month-long ‘World Challenge’ trips; one to Tanzania and one to Bolivia. These trips connected my love of educating young people with the opportunity to work in different environments.

My interest in Hong Kong actually goes even further back than that – to university. I shared a flat with two guys who had been to school in ESF. While I had been hostelling in the Lake District, they had been to Everest Base Camp. I was very much taken with how all-rounded and well educated they were, as well as the range of opportunities they had at school in Hong Kong, and international education has been on my radar ever since.

What attracted you to the role at DBIS?

Having lived in Hong Kong before, I felt a very strong connection with the school. I was a mentor to Paul Tough, one of the previous heads, and I know [the last DBIS head of school] Stuart Bridge from working with the Dulwich Group. I knew far more about the school than just somebody looking at an advert. Plus, the chance to come back to Hong Kong, a place that I love, was far too good an opportunity to pass up.

I think what fascinates me about DBIS is how it links to the community that it serves. It's not a typical school in that sense. It's also a through school and I've not been in charge of a through school before, so that was also part of the appeal – a new challenge. I’ve visited Discovery Bay (DB) maybe three or four times during the time I was working in Sha Tin, and it works perfectly for the family. It was just a great opportunity, really.

How does it feel to be back in Hong Kong?

It very much feels like a privilege to be back. It was challenging in Dubai, where I was principal at Jumeirah College until December 2022; I don't think anybody has had a good pandemic, but it feels as though much of Hong Kong’s hard work has paid off. We're starting to see the old vibrancy of Hong Kong coming back – restaurants opening, people starting to travel again.

Then there’s the amazing infrastructure of Hong Kong, both physical and human infrastructure. Hong Kongers are such well-educated, hardworking, diligent people with a real can-do philosophy for making things happen. I'm sure that will draw people who either had to or chose to leave during the pandemic. I think Hong Kong will continue to be that magnet for people, it's truly an amazing place.

Meet Discovery Bay International School's New Principal, Marc Morris

You've been at DBIS for a full term now – what are your initial impressions of the school?

One of the important things for me was to connect with people individually, to give everybody the opportunity to sit down and say to me “this is me, this is what I really like about DBIS, these are the things I think are unique about the place and, equally, these are the things that perhaps we could change.”

I've met with nearly everybody on the teaching staff now, and that has given me a good, broad perspective. It's quite clear that the school enjoys and deserves the reputation that it has within the community.

People are very happy to work here, they enjoy the community and are very positive about the students. All of the suggestions were positive around wanting to support students on their learning journey. Of course, as with any school, there's lots we can do, and you are never in a position where you [can be] complacent, but I think we are in a very strong position. We are valued in the community, we've got very good, well-qualified professionals here, good practices built up over time, and we need to drive that forward.

What is your three-to-five-year plan, and how will you achieve your goals?

As well as meeting with everybody individually, I've been looking at all of the data that's available: prior attainment data, examination results, finances, policies, and all the other things that make up an effective organisation. I think the macro picture will be the same as probably any other school in Hong Kong. Like other schools, we've seen some of our students depart due to the pandemic, but my expectation is that over the next 18 months or so, we will see those numbers go back up. DB is starting to fill back up again, and I can see there being pressure for us to increase the number of students on roll.

We are keen to see potential development on the school site to both improve the already excellent facilities and increase the number of students we can take on. I would like to see co-location of the Sixth Form so that they are on our main site, and I want to improve our facilities for the benefit of all our students, from nursery through to year 13. I think the reality for us that’s perhaps different to other schools is I don't think we're going to be in a position where we need to be aggressive in our recruitment. I think DB filling up again and DB expanding will [naturally] bring the demand in, so I think we're in a very healthy position from that point of view.

DBIS is a not-for-profit school, and we have been able to manage our finances such that we can continue with the philosophy of putting all the money back into the school so that we can offer the best provision for our students.

The early years and primary campuses have obviously been established for a long time, and there's a maturity there that isn't yet there in secondary. That's certainly an area to work on, but you can't fast track that – it just takes time. We plan to further enhance our extracurricular activity (ECA) programme, and there are also areas for development and focus in terms of our Mandarin and music provisions. We also plan to have university and careers advice available for families at a much earlier stage so that students have a clear idea in the early parts of [their] secondary [education] about where they are tracking, what options are open to them and where they need to focus if they are going to survive in the competitive world that we live in.

Part of our ongoing work will be around encouraging students to be their personal best. Students need to understand where they are now, where they can go on their learning journey and how we can best support them in that shared goal of achieving their potential. It's a competitive world out there, and we need to make sure our students are keeping up with the other students in Hong Kong and internationally. I want our students to have a broad education, to enjoy their childhood and to leave school being able to lead fulfilling and sustainable adult lives. 

We hear that there’s some exciting news regarding DBIS Sixth Form …

Yes, we have decided that we are going to focus our scholarship programme for the next two years in the Sixth Form area. There will be six places available for new applicants, with a 25% reduction in fees. These are for academic scholarships starting in year 12 from August. We’re very excited to be able to offer students this opportunity!

Meet Discovery Bay International School's New Principal, Marc Morris

How has the international education scene changed since COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed in Hong Kong?

There are far more people wanting to come and see the school and make applications; we are definitely benefitting from that bounce we are seeing Hong Kong have as it re-energises. Of course, there's always a slight lag – we still can't make group bookings for flights, for example, so it will take a bit of time before we can get back to regularly attending inter-school events overseas – but I think Hong Kong will remain a very popular place to come and live as well as a very good place to come and do business. We already have waiting lists for some of our year groups, and I do think the micro picture for DB will be that there will be fewer places than there will be children looking for them.

How would you summarise your education philosophy?

Students need to be healthy, happy and safe. You ideally want them to leap out of bed in the morning wanting to go to school because they actively enjoy most of what is on offer. They need to achieve their academic potential but also have a breadth about them, whether that’s through involvement in charity work or music or different extracurricular activities. Being able to find and pursue what you really enjoy, what your passions are in life, that's what makes people interesting, and often that makes you as employable as the hard currency of the qualifications. The degree might get your foot in the door, but your personality and those broader skill sets are what will get you the job or the promotion.

Students also need to have a sensitivity and understanding of the locality they live in, the country they live in, as well as a global perspective. As we've seen with the pandemic, predicting what the future might be like is hard, and really, you want students to be able to lead sustaining and fulfilling lives. That means gainful employment, and it means being able to adapt to a changing world by having a skill set that isn't fixed, that's quite flexible and transferrable.

What advice would you give to parents looking for an international school for their child?

I think the most important thing is to visit a school. Websites are great and can tell you about curricula, facilities, pathways etc. You can look at data around academic results and you can come to a view, but that won't give you a full picture of the atmosphere, the culture, how students interact with each other, how they interact with adults, how they are with their learning, and so on. Having looked at some of the initial information, make a shortlist of schools then go and have a look around. Ask questions. Do you feel comfortable here? Would your child feel comfortable here?

It has to be the right fit. The curricula available in Hong Kong are very different. The IB programme is good for students who have a broad capacity across the various different subject areas, but for students who might not have that breadth or who are clear where their strengths and passions lie, you will probably get a much better set of grades by taking A Levels. It's about what's best for each individual student.

Don't just go off a website, and don't just go off what a family friend has said. Come and have a look. If the school’s not for you, that's fine. If we've helped you find the right school for your child, that's good for everyone involved.

Find out more at the DBIS official website.

Where: Discovery Bay International School, Discovery Bay, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Contact details: +852 2987 7331

This article is presented in partnership with Discovery Bay International School. As an advertorial feature, the content in this article reflects the views and opinions of Discovery Bay International School and may not necessarily represent the views of the publisher.

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