Close up: living and working in Prague

Eteach’s international guru Gerry Hillier-Manolas took time out to visit The English College in Prague when she recently visited the Czech Republic for the Council of British International Schools’ (COBIS) conference. Here she tells us about what makes the college different, what they look for in new recruits, and her experience of the city itself.

“It was a brief visit,” says Gerry, “but I was able to meet with headmaster Mark Waldron, who offered a valuable insight into life at The English College and what makes it different.”

The college offers an English style education, in English, to 360 boys and girls aged 13-19. Its roots go back to the Prague English Grammar School, which existed from the 1920s and governors are drawn from the UK and the Czech Republic. This is symbolised by its two patrons, former President Vaclav Havel and HRH the Prince of Wales.

A very warm welcome

“One of the first things that Mark implemented when he took on his post was ensuring that visitors receive an appropriate ‘British-style’ welcome; apparently the traditional emphasis in the country is sometimes just on ‘information giving’ and can appear quite abrupt. Mark asked his previous PA from the UK to come over and help give the college more of an ‘English feel’ – and that is really where he wants to make the difference.

“Parents want to have a warm welcome when they arrive, so they’ve tried to instil that – even by changing the front of the college around, so Mark’s office is near the entrance and visitors can be very warmly received.”

“Mark actually gave me a book about the college, entitled ‘Old Roots, New Shoots’, which is the story of how The English College in Prague has been ‘reinvented’ since the revolution.”

Best of the best

Gerry explains that the students coming in are assessed academically, so the college recruits ‘the best of the best’. They’re taught in English using the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) curriculum and prepared for higher education in the UK. It’s hoped that many will then go on to do big things in life, supported by their education that has had an international dimension.

“Another big difference is that while students come in on academic merit, parents only pay proportionally according to their salary. It’s not a ‘flat fee’ for every child with only the rich having access.”

An international, academic feel

“There is a large number of North Vietnamese living in the country, as well as Russians and Ukranians. A lot of parents from those backgrounds want their children to have a British education. Those parents, particularly those originating from the Far East, often value education so highly that they will choose to invest the bulk of their salary on their children’s learning.” 

Parents want their children to be taught by native English speakers. And because of employment law, precedence is given to employing teachers from the EU, which obviously puts those from the UK at a distinct advantage. While it’s preferable but not essential for teachers to have experience of the IGCSE curriculum, English language teaching qualifications are also well regarded and the college is also open to employing NQTs.

Out and about in Prague

Gerry was also able to extend her fact finding trip and enjoy a few days with her family in Prague.

“We found prices were comparable to the UK – maybe slightly cheaper, but not much. Although part of the EU, the currency is the Czech koruna or ‘crown’. We could all eat out in a restaurant for about £20-30 and we were able to buy a family travel ticket for five days, giving the three of us unlimited travel around the city for about £40. Public transport is good, with three metro lines and regular trams as well as buses. Although all the signs are in Czech, almost everyone we ran into also spoke English.”

As a city, Prague has plenty to offer – and the great thing is that it is near enough to sample for a short break before making up your mind that it’s the country for you.

In fact, Gerry reports that from the centre of the city to the airport takes just over 20 minutes, and then it’s about an hour’s flight to London – that’s quicker than travelling from Cornwall or even from Dorset to London!

You can join The English College in Prague’s Talent Pool from this link

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