We caught up with the Programme Director at Yarnton Manor, Christine Luscombe-Whyte, to hear her thoughts on international education programmes, stories from her past, and what she expects of Oxford Royale Academy students after graduation.
Before coming to ORA, Christine enjoyed a long and varied career in the education field. She spent a substantial period of time managing women’s higher education in the Middle East, working first in the United Arab Emirates, and later in Saudi Arabia. On returning to the UK, she worked in research in education and training, before specialising in special needs education.
Christine credits her own international upbringing with her global outlook and ability to rise to a challenge: her father was in the airline business, and his work took the family all over the world. Christine says, “This made me automatically independent and willing to adjust to different situations.” She also cites a key piece of advice from her father as her inspiration for tackling the complex and controversial issues of the education field: “He would always tell me, ‘Chris, it’s not worth living if you’re not going to make a difference.’” And Christine is unequivocal on this point: “Everyone can make a difference, no doubt about that. The problem is that lots of people don’t push themselves, don’t take risks – but these are things that this programme very much encourages.”
Indeed, Christine has been thoroughly impressed by the spirit and attitudes of the students since their arrival. She says, “These students are game-changers. They had the initiative to know that this programme would be good for them.” She recalls speaking to parents on arrivals day, and how many of them said, “We knew nothing about this, nothing about ORA. They [the students] chose it.” Christine sums it up: “This tells you about their capacity for leadership.”
What does she want students to get out of their two weeks with ORA? “I want this experience to create a difference in their thinking, in their world. This is what I see happening before my eyes.” She continues: “I want students to emerge as different people. I want them to leave having matured, with a better understanding of the world. More than anything, I want this experience to be a turning point for our students, for them to look back on their lives and see ORA as a significant experience.” When asked why this sort of intensive international education experience is so valuable, Christine responds, “I can see that this is a time when students are letting loose – it’s really their first experience of this kind of intellectual and personal freedom. It’s not only the living together, the socialising, the academics, but the whole lifestyle together. It’s a bridge to the next step, as we’re providing these new freedoms in a safe and secure environment.”
It is clear that Christine brings skills and leadership honed in diverse and challenging environments. How would she characterise her own leadership philosophy? “Calmness, resolution, being able to cope when things are thrown at you. I really believe that in most cases we’re not actually given things we can’t cope with. Leadership is about positivity. I like to look to Richard Branson – maybe it has something to do with my father, but I’ve always been a fan of his. Even in a crisis, he gets straight on it, never lets things drift. And then he always finds a way of rewarding the people who work for him.” She finds the right words to bring it all together: “Leadership is directly encouraging your people to face challenges.”
It sounds like our game-changing students are in good hands.