Clive Austin: A Life in Education

Clive Austin has been an educator for 47 years—and a student before that, yet Clive Austin credits his best educational experience not to one institution but to the school of life; that is, to travel. Born in Hertfordshire, England, Clive was just 9 months old when his family moved to India, and for the next 20 years the Austins lived in East Africa, Malaysia and Hong Kong. The son of a British government official and a concert pianist, Clive’s early childhood was rich in cultural experiences, adventure and, of course, music. These years were an education in their own right, one that ignited a spirit of inquiry and an appreciation for different cultures and the arts.     

When Clive was seven, his parents, who at the time were working in various and often volatile countries, sent him to The King’s School, Canterbury, then an all-boys boarding school. It would be his home for the next 10 years. Less interested in academics than athletics, it was at Canterbury that Clive indulged his passion for sport, playing competitive rugby, cricket and field hockey. As one of his teachers noted, “If Clive took his studies as seriously as he took his sports, he’d be a straight A student.”

Upon graduation, Clive was hired to teach French at a school in Sussex. The school soon realized he didn’t understand French, but fortunately he had mastered math, and so he taught math and athletics and was a resident supervisor. Surprisingly, and even though teaching was a family trait (his grandparents were high school principals in London and he had three aunts who were teachers), Clive wasn’t compelled at that time to become an educator; in fact, he had accepted a position at Barclays Bank in London. But before he was to start at the bank, he flew to Hong Kong to see his parents. A short visit turned into a one-year stay; to earn money in Hong Kong, Clive taught English. 

Deciding that Clive should move to Vancouver to keep an eye on his younger brother at UBC, Clive’s mother, a brilliant persuasive writer, wrote to St. George’s School to ask about teaching opportunities. Shortly thereafter Clive was hired as games master, grade 4 teacher and resident housemaster at St. George’s. The year was 1967, and his annual salary was $4,000 (plus lodging and board). Clive eventually became deputy head of the junior school as well as athletic director. He also produced the school musicals (including The Sound of Music—an ambitious feat for an all-boys school!).

All the while, Clive stayed active in sport and even played provincial rugby. In 1976, wanting to take St. George’s soccer team to Eastern Canada to compete, Clive helped coordinate the first CAIS junior boys soccer tournament (which celebrated its 36th year in October 2012 at West Point Grey Academy, with 243 soccer players on 16 teams from across Canada.)

Now married with three children, Clive was active in his children’s schooling, serving as chair of the parents’ association at Little Flower Academy, his daughters’ school.  Clive became director of admissions of St. George’s in 1992, a position he held until 1996, the year after he was approached to open an independent coeducational school in Vancouver called West Point Grey Academy.  

Opening this new school was a big risk—and a huge undertaking. The school had no functional classrooms, no teachers, no students. But with a vision as expansive as the school’s hilltop view, Clive was confident the classrooms would be filled.    

“There was a need for a coeducational school in Vancouver. Every child is different and learns differently, and for many children and families, a coeducational school is the best choice.”

Working day and night, Clive interviewed teachers and students and parents and gathered desks and lights and books. An advertisement in the Vancouver Sun yielded a staggering 400 applications, and in September 1996, West Point Grey Academy opened its doors to 336 students in junior kindergarten to grade 8. A grade was added each year to include grade 12 in 2000.

However, Clive emphasizes that no school is better than or should put themselves above others; in the end, it’s about which school best meets the child’s and family’s needs at the time. This philosophy is one he feels represents B.C.’s thriving independent school community, now more collaborative than ever before. 

“As independent schools, we benefit from sharing and learning from each other. More importantly, our students benefit from our generosity as an association.”

Although he never thought he would become an educator, he cannot imagine a more fulfilling career: one that nurtures children to achieve their personal bests, to explore their unique talents, and to be upstanding citizens who care deeply about their communities.  

“As privileged as children are to attend our schools, we are also privileged to teach them. It’s not about telling children what to learn; it’s about guiding them to pursue their passions and to inspire in them a lifelong love of learning.”

This June marks Clive’s last as headmaster at West Point Grey Academy. As he prepares for retirement—sunny days in Palm Desert with his wife, Deirdre, and time for cooking and golf—, Clive can take pride that the school, under his leadership, has become one of the largest and most respected coeducational day schools in Canada, with 940 students and 105 faculty members.

On May 31, 2013, we will honour his vision and dedication to education at a reception at West Point Grey Academy. We invite all members of the ISABC community, along with his former colleagues and students, to attend. Please RSVP here, and help us celebrate one of Canada’s finest educators, Clive Austin.

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