An EDDi Special
Profiling Dr Denry Machin
On 31st December, 2021, the world of international schooling in Asia tilted on its axis, at least a little: Dr Denry Machin left the Harrow International group of schools.
Over the course of 18 years, Denry has been a positive energy behind the growth of Harrow International Schools, and de facto, behind the growth of international schooling across the planet.
In fact, to a great many international school professionals, Denry has come to personify Harrow in Asia; business-like while imbued with a strong educational ethos. From Head of Upper School at Harrow Bangkok, to becoming Associate Director (Special Projects) for Harrow International Management Services, there are not many, like Denry, who can claim not only to have witnessed first-hand the growth of the international school sector in East and SE Asia but to also played a major part in it.
As well as being part of the early growth of Harrow Bangkok (circa 2003 onwards), Denry has overseen new Harrow International openings in Hong Kong, China, and most recently, Japan. He has also undertaken business development and feasibility analysis for almost every country in Asia – even opening a small project school in Myanmar (later taken over by the Dulwich group).
No surprise then that his knowledge of new school start-ups (see here for example) and his project management skills are second to none, honed over many years through responsibility for educational planning, HR, operations, compliance, marketing, and brand activation/management.
Most people faced with such responsibilities would feel that were enough – let’s spend the rest of our time relaxing. Not Denry. Just take a look at the additional activities, responsibilities, initiatives, and professional development outside of his Harrow role Denry has undertaken over the past decade alone.
2010: Embarked on the Keele University MBA Education (International). Graduated 2013 with Distinction.
2011: Actively involved in Keele University’s establishment of its Asia International Education programmes (MBA, MA, PGCEi and EdD), hosted at Harrow Bangkok.
2012: Set up his educational training and consultancy company, PEDAGOGUE.
2013: Embarked on a Keele University PhD programme, researching the corporatisation of international schooling and its implications for school Heads. Awarded his Doctorate in 2016.
Joined Keele University as lecturer on their MBA, MA and PGCEi programmes.
2014: Published his first peer-reviewed academic journal article: Professional educator or professional manager? The contested role of the for-profit international school Principal
Began publishing professional journal articles on the economics of international schooling, organisational psychology, and school marketing – see here.
2016: Following four successful Team Visits, invited by the Council of International Schools to train as a Team Chair/Co-Chair.
2017: Published two post-doc academic papers:
2018: Through PEDAGOGUE, established a Service Agreement with Warwick University to support their new PGCEi programme; guest lecturer on the programme.
2019: Co-founded (with myself) the unique Educational Digest International (recently passing its 50th publication mark).
Published another peer-reviewed journal article: The Organisational Evolution of Contemporary International Schools
2020: Co-authored (also with myself) the best-selling book ‘International Schooling: The Teacher’s Guide’ and (as solo author) ‘The Wisdom of Heads: short advice for school leaders’.
I am not sure about you, but just reading that list leaves me breathless and wondering where he found the time!
Denry’s last major role for Harrow was helping set up their new international school in Appi, northern Japan: very much on the frontier of international schooling, an exciting and demanding project, though Covid-19 meant Denry having to do this task from the condo in Bangkok he shares with his long-time partner, Sally.
This is not a man who lacks physical or mental energy. Which perhaps explains why his idea of relaxation is pushing weights in the local gym. Check out his pecs!
I first met Denry when he turned up at Payap International School in May 2010, as a student for the first session of Keele University’s new MBA Education (International) programme. I was the initiator of the programme and Keele’s Asia Programme Director. So, along with the other nine participants on that fledging programme, Denry was my student. I remember him sitting in the lecture room that first morning – bright, sparky, smiling, black spiky hair, and wearing a t-shirt proudly stating ‘Harrow International School’. And that was who he remained over the next decade and more. The only difference being my relationship with him changing from lecturer/student, to friend/colleague.
One of the skills which any postgraduate student requires, especially if they are also working full-time in education, is excellent organisational and time-management ability. Deny has this skill in spades. But not only that, he has the capacity for critical and intellectual thinking. He can put together a treatise on the corporatisation of private education as well as he can write up a five-year business plan for a multi-million dollar international school venture.
Which is precisely why I and Dr Patrick Lee (my fellow co-Founder and Director of Whitehead, Lee and Associates) welcome Denry to his new role as Senior Associate/Consultant for WLA. Starting from 1st January 2022, Denry will be a central part of the WLA team, assisting the company to grow: providing expert advice to independent and international schools around the world. [i]
I spoke to Denry about his nearly two decades working for Harrow international schools and asked him following questions:
1. What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the world of international schooling since you started at Harrow Bangkok in 2003.
There are too many to list; the international school world I entered in 2003 bears little relation to what it is today. Forced to pin down one change or at least one overarching theme? I’d say professionalisation. The entrepreneurial and frontier spirit of the early 2000’s has given way to a more professional (and more corporate) field.
In many regards this is a good thing, especially where safeguarding and professional development are concerned. Back in 2003 safeguarding had nothing like the priority it does today. PD opportunities were few and far between, and what existed was expensive. The adventurous spirit of international schooling remains, but informality has given way to systems, procedures, consistency, uniformity, and maturity – within schools and across the field generally. Very broadly, and for better and worse, schools are better organised, better managed (though plenty of teachers may disagree!), and the industry itself much more developed.
In fact, maybe there’s a paper there somewhere. Examining how that shift to professionalisation is manifest, at both a school and systems level…I’ll add it to the list!
2. Can you summarise what traits a good leader must have for a large international school in Asia?
Resilience and flexibility. This has always been the case, now more so than ever. School leaders and teachers don’t need me to tell them how hard the last two years have been, how flexible they’ve needed to be, and how much reliance they’ve needed to show – again, and again, and again.
If you are interviewing for a leadership position, alongside the usual vision, pedagogy, and technical questions, I’d advise having examples of where you’ve demonstrated resilience and flexibility. Or, in other words, have a good answer to: “how have you coped with Covid?”.
3. What has been the biggest challenge you personally faced over the past decade, e.g. doing the PhD or setting up a Harrow school?
Starting up a school in Myanmar was a challenge. At the time there was very little infrastructure in the country: no uniform or catering suppliers, very poor internet access, no ATMS and a very closed banking system, very few options for appropriate staff housing, and, where the school was located, regular and lengthy power cuts (often running to several days). As well as opening a school we were also working with local providers to establish infrastructure and services. Everything we did was a first. It was fun, memorable but certainly challenging.
4. How do you see the world of international school changing over the next five to ten years?
I think we are already starting to see the beginnings of the next major change: a shift to bilingual and ‘local international’ schools. There is still space and demand for super-premium and premium schools in some locations, however, the bulk of the market is clearly in the middle.
For middle-class parents the aspiration isn’t necessarily the prestige attached to an outpost of a famous independent school, nor for an ‘international’ education (however we might define that), it’s for access to English and to the local language. These students are just as likely to go to local universities as Western ones.
To date this demand has been catered for by small-ish, often family run schools – the traditional ‘locally owned school’. As the industry matures and professionalises though, the middle-tier is finding it increasingly difficult to keep up, financially and in terms of the professional systems it now takes to run an international school – at least an accredited and successful one. No surprise then that we seeing corporate groups move into this space, buying out local schools, building their own, and/or opening bilingual schools. This trend is likely to accelerate over the next decade.
At the same time, once initial licence terms expire for the franchised schools, there may well be some localisation. In China it is possible, for example, that the local backers of franchised schools, having carefully observed what it takes to run a school, decide to go it alone. Maybe they’ll build an entirely new school or simply choose not to renew the franchise and rebrand the buildings/school they already own. We’ve seen this in other industries, why should education be any different?
5. What advice can you give to those Western independent schools looking to set up outposts overseas?
I have actually recently written about this (here). The core message is: expect things to be different.
International schooling isn’t the same as independent schooling – and nor should it be. This isn’t virgin territory. In most corners of the world, it’s already well explored. Many of the [branded schools] who have gone before expected to export their brand, culture, and ethos lock, stock and boater. Few crashed on the rocks, but most have had to adjust course. They have trimed their sails to local conditions and accepted that what works in the West, and may have done for centuries, doesn’t always work overseas, at least not in the same way.
6. What is the most abiding memory you have of your time with Harrow?
There are so many, though one stands out.
In 2011 Harrow Bangkok was displaced by floods. We schooled the students in seven different sites across the city. The senior school students were night-schooled at NIST International; our day started as the NIST students finished.
On our first day there I recall standing at the gate with the then NIST Principal, Simon Leslie, greeting the Harrow students. With many of their homes also flooded, few had access to their uniforms; for a school which prided itself on standards of appearance, we were a bedraggled bunch. We couldn’t access the Harrow site, so we had no books and no equipment. We’d been stripped of all physical manifestations of ‘Harrowness’.
Yet, as the students and staff arrived, the DNA of Harrow, the ethos of what we had created over the previous decade, was clearly evident – not just to me but to Simon Leslie as well. We didn’t need buildings, or books, or boaters to be ‘Harrow’. The way the students and staff carried themselves, their graciousness to our new hosts, their positivity, determination, and their resilience (we finished school at 9pm, including on Fridays!) transcended the tangible anchors of culture.
It was my proudest moment as an educationalist.
So there you have it, an insight into one of the most experienced international school educators, someone who has already made a major contribution to the growth of this exciting profession and who for sure is going to impact it even more so this decade and beyond.
The world of international schooling is a whole lot different to what it was when Denry started out, and the gap between what international schooling was like in the past and what it’s going to be like in the future is only going to widen. But then no profession stays static and nor should the professional.
Growth is what makes the school and it is what makes the educator.
I guess if you want to sum up Denry’s ethos and philosophy as an international educator, then ‘never stop growing’ probably captures it as well any.