In the beautiful city of Cluj, near Mărăști Square, amongst the tall, run-down yet imposing buildings you can hear children of all ages telling their parents about their day as they are picked up from school. This school, livening up the surrounding “concrete jungle”, brings a unique angle not only to the neighborhood, but to culture, education and society itself. This is Royal School, a private international school which follows the national curriculum of England and that of Cambridge International Examination, creating a British atmosphere and instilling knowledge in children four to eighteen, since the fall of 2015.
Its primary focus is offering a complex educational package and preparing children for what life has to offer in the 21st century. The teaching language here is English. As a perpetually growing young institution, Royal School plans to extend into the facility right next door to the current main building, set to accommodate future classes and provide ample outdoor play areas, in addition to the front yard and the back playground enjoyed by students ages 8-18 and 4-7, respectively. The expanse will raise the current square footage per student (10 square metres inside, 7 square metres outside) significantly (to 14 square metres inside and 10 square metres outside). Guidance is provided by foreign as well as local teachers. Being a Fourth Way School (meaning that is was not established by the state, the church or the individual, but a community of twelve founding members and is open to new contributors), Royal School focuses on education, not profit, preparing children for dealing with the 21st century’s ups and downs.
Royal School started out as a European innovative educational project. With the motto “Whatever the question, education is the answer”, it is an accredited Cambridge Examination Centre, registered by the Ministry of Education through ARACIP ( Romanian Agency for Quality Assurance in Pre-University Education), as an international school, belonging to COBIS (Council of British International Schools). For Laura Prisăcariu, it’s her first year at Royal School as Teacher Assistant for Year 6 and co-editor of the Royal School weekly Gazette. Year 6 represents the end of a learning cycle for children ages ten to eleven. “We focus on knowledge itself, taught in various methods, but also on skills such as collaboration, the ability to self-evaluate, critical thinking necessary for research as well as soft skills.” , says Laura Prisăcariu. She also mentioned that the school gives great importance to each student’s individuality and their specific way of acquiring new knowledge, resulting in differentiated and personalized teaching and learning.
Breaking the elegant front of a modern office building, neatly arranged flowers and waving flags (displaying the students’ smiling faces) foreshadow the mood inside, the floor-to-ceiling glass panels allowing a sneak peak into the joyful classrooms. Fun, educational activities of students or notes of their thoughts and ideas all over the walls, a homey-Harry-Potter themed décor, classrooms for each year group and of course, the most important aspect, the children themselves. Near the staircase (which displays the titles of several great classic reads from the school curriculum) leading up to the 2nd floor, where children are talking, reading, playing, there is a London-inspired red phone booth. A cozy, unique corner to be enjoyed with a book and a beanbag, it is a small detail that proves that everyone can enjoy education in their own particular way. There are rather distinguishable differences between Romanian state schools and this private institution, one of them being that the latter offers “Lunch & Learn”, where both children and staff enjoy a well-thought-out menu available from Monday to Friday, even with a separate vegetarian (or gluten-free) healthy option.Moreover, the students also have numbered lockers. Along the lines of the “education, not profit” statement, Royal School offers competitive yearly tuition fees on the wider European private education market (more information on the topic is available on their official website), not to mention that the fee contains school clubs, textbooks, student diaries and uniforms as well as the chance to participate in the DEIA programme (Duke of Edinburgh International Award).
Going to the quieter 2nd floor, connected not only by the decorated staircase, but also a unique indoor slide, the chatter of little children slowly fades and a girl, proudly wearing her uniform, is sitting on a cushioned bench in the hallway: “I like it here a lot. I came here two years ago. I moved from a different school because of reasons, like I was a bit bullied.” The little girl, originally from America, now thrives in the positive community she found at Royal School: “I’m trying to become a cartoonist that animates on YouTube”. Many of the children who go to Royal School are from more than twenty different countries, so it is a very diverse, multicultural school. Its CIE qualifications are recognized in places such as: Europe (Germany, UK for example), Australia, Canada, India, Indonesia, USA, UK, Singapore and so on. They are recognized by over 1500 institutions across 78 countries. Inbal Robinson, mother of two whose kids attend Royal School and president of the PTFA: “We chose this school because it is Cambridge accredited and we wanted an international school in English for our children. It is really international – about 50% of the children are foreigners , so it affects the learning environment as well. I think that being a small school, gives it a big advantage – we created a family-like community in which everybody knows everybody – teachers, parents, students, and that helps to keep focus on every child’s development and personal growth. It also helps to prevent bullying, which unfortunately exists nowadays in many schools worldwide.”
COMING TO CLUJ
In England, Michael and his wife lived in a small village in Leicestershire. They have been working in the Midlands for over 27 years until one day when Michael’s wife came home and said something that would change their lives forever: “I want to make a change”. It was a bit of a surprise, but we looked in the teachers’ newspaper, what we have in the UK, and inside the newspaper was an advert for a job in Kazakhstan. So I said ‘Shall we apply and see what happens?’. It was almost a joke.”, says Michael. However, it ended up not being a joke, because a few months later the couple was teaching in Kazakhstan: “The students we taught were incredible, always wanting to study. We gave them some homework and they used to clap when we gave them homework.” After five years of teaching in Kazakhstan, Michael felt it was time for a change, so he moved to Romania and he already knows Cluj like a townie: “It’s an interesting place: there’s old architecture, there’s lots of new buildings, there’s the IT industry, there’s the Old Town”. Michael is none other than the headteacher of Royal School, Michael McPherson. The headteacher of a school is usually an intimidating, serious and cold person to most children. This, however, is not the case for Michael McPherson, because he is a positive, upbeat leader who doesn’t just sit in his office but interacts with his students and teachers in a warm and friendly manner. He also tries to make learning an easy task, although he teaches a quite new and challenging subject called “Global perspectives” which is a mixture of sociology, economics, business studies and psychology, a subject that isn’t included in any Romanian state curriculum.
Inbal Robinson also mentioned that “the teachers are excellent – very dedicated, very warm, very open minded and the foundation (School for Europe foundation) continues to re-invest in the school year by year- the building, the classrooms, the equipment – all very new, modern and colorful “.
Wandering the halls of Royal School, I realized that it is quite similar to Hogwarts. At the entrance, over the reception desk, reigns the House Cup, a much desired prize not only during every Friday Assembly, but also during the bi-annual House Games. The students being divided into four houses (just like in Harry Potter, only named Churchill, Brunel, Nelson and Shakespeare instead of Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw), they are encouraged to develop their behaviour skills (rewarded on Fridays) as well as their teamwork and communication abilities (demonstrated at the House games). However, not everything is about fun and games, education, is of course, a priority. “I think what’s really important in any school is to give students the opportunity to make the most of themselves”, says Michael McPherson. According to their website, Royal School was awarded full Cambridge Assessment International Examinations Center status beginning with 2017, meaning that it provides official examination certificates. Unlike the sometimes outdated Romanian school system which is often focused on having students memorize unprocessed information, Royal School aims to make education a fun quest sprinkled with discoveries that children have the freedom to embark upon independently, with the proper guidance.