Alison Colwell: To make a Difference through Education
Alison Colwell
Alison Colwell, Principal

Growing up, Alison Colwell made very happy and positive memories of school. This early affinity towards schooling coupled with her desire of a profession that makes a difference to children’s lives, led Alison Colwell to become a teacher.

She has been an educator for 28 years now. Although, she remarks, “I don’t know where the time has gone to!” Most of her career has been in challenging schools, as school improvement is something that she is passionate about. “As a teacher you get to mould and help to determine the futures of young individuals – which is a real privilege,” she added.

Baleares International College (BIC)

Baleares International College offers a British education with an international outlook delivering high quality education since they were founded over 60 years ago. Baleares International College has two schools: one in Sa Porrassa, Calvià, a very convenient location along the southwest coast of Mallorca, and the other in Sant Agustí, a very beautiful area just outside Palma. The Sa Porrassa school provides education for children from 3 to 18 years of age, while Sant Agustí provides education for children from 2 to 11 years. Regardless of the changing times, the schools have remained steadfast in their values of independence, integrity and resilience.

BIC is supported by Orbital Education, who provide access to the latest educational thinking and innovative teaching methods from the UK, which enables them to deliver highest quality education for their students.

Alison joined Baleares International College around 18 months ago as Principal, at BIC Sa Porrassa.

And as always, she was very excited to take up this new challenge. Fortunately, she found a wonderful team of staff, a delightful student body and very supportive families.

Bringing fresh eyes into any school is really important. She was lucky to be appointed at the same time as a fantastic new Head of Primary, Mrs. Elizabeth Compton, and Alison found that they were completely aligned on standards, values, and moral purpose. The Principal further adds: “We have been joined this year by an equally amazing new Head of Secondary, and a superb Head of Sixth Form, and together we are determined to continue my mission, which is to make BIC Sa Porrassa the number one school of choice on the island.”

With their focus on delivering outstanding teaching and learning, an excellent curriculum, high standards and expectations, ensuring stretch and challenge for all, putting the children’s well-being centre stage alongside their academic progress, and – most importantly – ensuring that students enjoy school, and are happy and feel safe there, Alison assures that they will achieve this all.

“Back in March, we went through one of the most draconian lockdowns in Europe,” she comments. “On the ominous date Friday 13 March, we closed the school gates for what would turn out to be the rest of the school year. Despite the considerable challenges we all faced, I was so proud of what my team – and our students – achieved,” she added.

What it means to Lead

During the lockdown, Alison’s team switched to online learning, something that they share with many schools around the globe. The teachers at BIC proved exceptional in delivering live lessons to all their students and maintaining those personal links that were crucial during such an unprecedented and challenging time.

With children having been out of the school building for more than five months, Alison Colwell was determined to have everything restored to business as usual, when they returned in September 2020. She stressed to the school staff the “C” words that are far more important to them than the current pandemic one – children, curriculum, culture, character, care, compassion, creativity, curiosity, challenge. The school knew that there would be a huge social and emotional element to the children’s return after such a long absence from the classroom, as well as an academic one, but it was a smooth and successful transition.

This school year, the staff have continued with outstanding teaching and learning across the school, and in addition held a wealth of extra-curricular activities and events, that are such an important part of a great school. They held science week, recycling week, kindness week. The school also held inter-House competitions, ran a debate club, and organised sporting fixtures.

BIC also conducted highly successful online parent consultation afternoons and hosted numerous webinars to give parents additional information, on myriad matters from our sixth form, English as an Additional Language support, revision for exams and the transition to secondary school. The staff performed a pantomime, recorded their carol service, and had primary students perform socially distanced carols at pick-up in the last week!

“It is a source of great pride to me to see so much in evidence my team’s tremendous skill, professionalism and dedication to our students, as well as the resilience, adaptability and all-round wonderfulness of our students,” remarked the proud Principal.

Just last year, a parent said to Alison: “I bet you wish you’d never come to the island!” But for Ms. Colwell, nothing could be further from the truth. More than ever, the joy and the privilege of school leadership are very clear to her. She adds that she has never gone through the challenges such as the ones presented last year. Personally and professionally, it has been daunting road for Alison Colwell, but with the excellent team she has around, the support of Orbital and of parents, and staying focused at all times on her mantra of, ‘children first’, it is a challenge she hopes to live up to.

“Working alongside such a committed, hard-working, and conscientious team of staff, as we have at BIC, reminds me every day of the importance of education and of school in our children’s lives,” Ms. Colwell noted. In addition, she further remarked that warm words of thanks and appreciation from parents, and recognition of all the work the team is doing and goals that they are aiming to achieve has been very gratifying. “On many occasions, a kind and timely email has helped to keep me afloat through some, at times, very choppy waters,” winked Ms. Alison. “Surrounded by outstanding teachers, and delightful children and young people, means that actually, in the year that we have all gone through, I have never felt more blessed,” she added.

Meet the Community!

In thinking about school community, about what makes BIC unique and special, Alison notes its initials encapsulate it perfectly. Being the only truly British school on the island, it brings out the best of the British education system, it has the advantages of being British owned (with all the benefits and strengths of belonging to a group that it brings) and the teachers are steeped in the best of British training and innovation.

“We value academic rigour and excellence, high standards and expectations, stretch and challenge,” said Alison. But within that Britishness lie also British values – tolerance, inclusivity, fairmindedness, equality. These are values and virtues are the features Alison’s team seek to draw out in their young charges, and help to develop them into kind, thoughtful and responsible young people.

“Equally, the internationalism of our student body and culture is at the heart of who we are and what we stand for,” commented the school administration. They welcome students from over 40 different nationalities (this truly international mix is again unrivalled), and celebrate while actively promoting language teaching, cultural awareness, and diversity.

Language proficiency is a central element of BIC curriculum. As a British international school, BIC prioritises two key elements of this: acquiring a high level of oracy and written skills in English and learning to speak and write other languages fluently. Living in Spain, of course, all BIC students learn Spanish from the earliest years, and it is a compulsory part of the curriculum up to and including Year 11.

“I’m still failing miserably in my efforts to learn Spanish and am constantly humbled by the bi-lingualism or even trilingualism of so many of our young people (and our staff of course),” says Alison. “Many of our students choose to study two languages, but equally many also opt to study German, French and Catalan,” she added.

However, as per the school, an important priority for all its students – indeed the reason why many families choose BIC, including British families – is being able to master the English language, whether British born or not, able to talk fluently, to be articulate, to have a wide range of vocabulary, to express themselves in grammatically correct, eloquent English. The great orators of history and of our time speak with ease and style, as do the successful business owners, the politicians, the doctors, the teachers, the journalists, the lawyers, the actors, the pilots – and many other professionals. But equally, as members of the human race, BIC announces to want to help all our young people to talk with care, confidence and clarity.

And finally, but most importantly BIC – they put children first. Caring deeply for children, the BIC staff put their students’ welfare and well-being centre stage. “Enjoyment of school – of loving learning, of being inspired by great teachers, of never wanting to miss a single day – these are the most important success indicators, to me, of any school.”

Ms. Colwell is very proud of the good work her team does, still never being complacent and always, constantly, looking for how they move forward and improve, even in the midst of a pandemic when they could very well be forgiven for standing still!

Aspire to make a Difference

If there was one thing Alison would have changed in education, it would be for school leaders – those who know what it is really like to run a school – to be free from outside meddling from government and authorities who often do not have an understanding of the reality of school life and leadership!

“That said, I still believe that teaching is the best and most important job in the world, and would encourage well qualified, passionate experts to join the teaching profession,” concluded the austere Principal, Ms. Alison Colwell.

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