We chat with a panel of three leaders from Malvern College Pre-School Hong Kong (MCPS) about the school’s six-year milestone, and about key areas of learning including outdoor play, entrepreneurship and sustainability.
Meet the panel
Jacqueline McNalty – Head of Pre-Schools
“I’ve been in education for 31 years, including opening schools in Australia and being a head in London. I’ve also worked in China and Singapore, before being invited by Malvern to set up their preschools here in Hong Kong.”
Natalie Gleeson – Principal (Coronation Circle campus)
“I’ve worked internationally for 11 years, including eight years in the UAE. I started my training in England, but I really love the international community. I’m really passionate about giving children the best start in the early years.”
Emma-Jane Ritchie – Assistant Principal (Island West campus)
“I originally taught in Australia but have also worked in China, the UK and India. My expertise is in Reggio Emilia, and I love bringing this to MCPS. I also have a background in special education, helping with early intervention in young children.”
Congratulations on the six-year milestone for Malvern Pre-Schools! Tell us about some of your key achievements so far.
Jacqueline: I look at the mission, vision and values we have established in those six years. We are truly Malvern – it’s in our DNA and in our Five Centres of Excellence: British-style Pastoral Care; Enhanced Learning; Entrepreneurial Education; Outdoor and Environmental Education and a Global Network. We emphasise all of these things – from the importance of wellbeing to stretching and extending the individual talents of children, to the focus on outdoor education and our world-leading Forest-Beach School. And our global network has grown so much – there are now schools in Switzerland, Tokyo and Egypt. It presents incredible opportunities within the Malvern family, including here in Hong Kong.
Natalie: The relationship between our children, families and staff is so important to us. A lot of current staff joined MCPS in our founding year, which is testament to it being a happy and successful place to work. We’re an open-door preschool and getting back to those roots recently has been exciting, with parents again able to experience Malvern on a daily basis. But we’re also really proud of how well we have served our parents during the online learning period.
Emma Jane: Giving children access to the outdoors each week is another key at MCPS, and it has been hugely successful. We incorporate park visits and of course the Forest-Beach School into our programme, and the children absolutely love enjoying the outdoors and participating in all the opportunities it provides.
Jacqueline: Just to add one more from our open day this past weekend: I heard lots of compliments about our Mandarin programme, and it reminded me how well we are doing in language in general, for both native and non-native speakers. We have a rigorous curriculum, and it’s the only one I know that has been mapped against international language standards and against local Mandarin standards in Hong Kong.
How are you incorporating technology into the curriculum?
Emma-Jane: The new Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum came out last year, and we love that technology is present across the whole curriculum. That’s what we’re modelling in the preschool too. So, you’ll see children using digital microscopes to look at bugs or investigate leaves or flowers; or using coding principles to make circuits – from “squishy circuits” made of play dough in Pre-Nursery, up to K2 where children make quite complex alarm systems with circuits.
Natalie: At MCPS, adults interact with the children alongside the technology. We’re not replacing communication, collaboration and teamwork; we’re developing those skills while using technology as a motivator. Using English and Mandarin, and with bilingual teaching assistants too, the adults help the children research things they are naturally interested in. This leads to deeper levels of engagement.
Jacqueline: Malvern has produced four Nobel Prize Laureates, including three in the sciences. So it’s in our DNA. We do recognise that innovation entrepreneurship is really important. It’s all about problem solving, thinking out of the box, design and creativity, and linking these back to 21st-century learning skills.
Tell us about some of the pupils’ recent sustainability projects.
Emma-Jane: Our Forest-Beach School is about appreciating our natural environment, taking care of our natural environment and teaching the children the importance of our plants and ecosystem. And that’s what we try to bring back into the classroom as well – the idea of sustainability.
Natalie: There was an initiative in Sai Kung just last weekend around taking care of the environment through a beach clean-up. Emma Dean, our Forest-Beach School Leader, shared news of the event with the MCPS community as we know that many of them do like to get involved in these sorts of initiatives.
Emma is also permeating the issue of single-use plastic back into the schools and really trying to deter the Malvern community from using them. So, we ask the children to consider alternatives to single-use plastic and encourage them to recycle by sorting waste into different materials. We also upcycle and reuse waste to make wands, helmets, shields – whatever the children want for their role play.
At Forest-Beach School, we talk to the pupils about protecting the environment – like leaving shells on the beach and avoiding doing damage to growing things. We also model these conversations in front of parents, grandparents and aunties. This scaffolds the understanding of the concepts. The children are very open to it and we’re lucky our families are as well.
Jacqueline: I think that also resonates in our Reggio Emilia-inspired campus environment. You’ll see lots of natural woods, plants and other materials that create a calming environment. It’s just a more natural approach in general, which establishes a lovely healthy environment, indoors and out.
Entrepreneurship is one of Malvern’s centres of excellence. How are the youngest pupils embracing this concept?
Natalie: It starts in a simple way. For example, each class is named after an endangered animal, and on dress-up days we encourage children to bring a coin for the WWF collection box. When it’s full, the WWF comes to the preschools to collect it and the children get involved in handing the money over. They hear how the money will be used and how it benefits the animals.
Another example is Box of Hope, which we launched two weeks ago. We always like being involved in this as it is children helping children. We encourage families to talk at home about donating toys or resources the children no longer play with that are still in good condition. Those are important conversations – about giving, and about how not all children in Hong Kong and Asia are as fortunate as others.
Jacqueline: We use Harvard Project Zero’s Visible Thinking routines that really help foster entrepreneurship, innovation and design thinking from a young age. So, we might hold up a provocation poster to the children and say, “What do you see, what do you think and what do you wonder?” These open-ended questions draw out prior knowledge, language and understanding, allowing the children to take the lead with their learning, with the teacher as facilitator.
That’s another reason why we love the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum, as it is inquiry-driven and a perfect segue for the Malvern “big school”, which is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school.
Obviously Forest-Beach School is popular among pupils for outdoor play and discovery; are there similar opportunities at the MCPS campuses themselves?
Natalie: In the opposite week to Forest-Beach School, we take the children to a nearby park for discovery time. We know the importance of outdoor education and regular access to fresh air, and the impact that has on children’s wellbeing, self-regulation and academic progress – it’s all connected. These are their happy places!
Jacqueline: There is a beautiful park opposite the Coronation Circle campus with a children’s play area and a sensorial play area, with flowers and butterflies and birds. We have a really lovely relationship with the park staff, and they look forward to us coming and playing there.
Emma-Jane: At Island West, we were using the WE Park on the waterfront but that’s closed for renovation so we’re using the piers where we can play games, do drawing and observe the environment. There’s a pirate ship playground on Pier 1 and a grass area on Pier 3 that we use as well.
Jacqueline: As a Reggio Emilio school, we believe the environment is the “third teacher”. That’s why we have such a big focus on it, both indoors and out. We’re very proud of this at our school.
Recently, you announced a through-train model. How have parents and students responded to this?
Natalie: Very positively! Having that reassurance they are getting a fantastic start within the preschool and will transition seamlessly into Prep 1 at MCHK has taken a lot of stress out of the admissions process. The message is definitely getting out there in the Hong Kong community as well.
With Island West being on Hong Kong Island and the primary and secondary school in Tai Po, there are a few parents who’ll choose a different school after preschool, but we’re proud of how we prepare children for entering any leading international school, in Hong Kong or further afield. We always receive really positive feedback about how other schools love getting pupils from MCPS.
Jacqueline: That’s the number one thing I notice if I’m at an international school fair or networking event. Heads will come up and say how much they love our pupils, and how the love of learning really shines through.
So, we do reassure parents that through-train is there. But we also let them know that, if they’re transitioning to another country, our children do very well. A lot of parents stay in touch when they move and they remember their time at MCPS very fondly.
Answering these questions has also been a nice way to reflect on everything we’ve done over six years. It’s been a team effort. And that’s the best thing about our school: the amazing team – parents, pupils and staff.
Malvern College Pre-School Hong Kong (Island West): G/F & 1/F, Viking Court, 165-166 Connaught Road West, Sai Ying Pun
Malvern College Pre-School Hong Kong (Coronation Circle): G09-12 Coronation Circle, 1 Yau Cheung Road, West Kowloon
See more in our Living in Hong Kong section