The new principal of Fairfield School is happy to be home after teaching overseas for more than 13 years.

Alasdair Maclean, his wife Charlotte, family and friends were welcomed to the school and his new post with an official pōwhiri last week. He said his family were honoured to be welcomed to the school by local iwi Muaūpoko in such a way.

After being immersed in different cultures for the last 13 years, it was an occasion that made a personal and lasting impact with their children, in the country they have always considered home but have never actually lived in.

"We've lived in a lot of countries and have seen a lot of cultures, but they have never experienced anything like that before. It was very special. They are New Zealander's now," he said.


Isabel, now 13, was just six weeks old when the Macleans left New Zealand and their son Max, 10, was born in China while his father was teaching there. Mrs Maclean said "he was made in China, but not Chinese-made".

What originally started as a two-year contract to teach in China extended into a safari where Mr Maclean took up posts in India, China and Indonesia, and provided him with a unique view of the educational sector.

"We loved it. We were originally only going for two years," he said, "but it was such an adventure - we felt like that wasn't enough to really learn about the places we were living".

His first overseas post was in apartment buildings in a school set up to provide for expat children living in the city of Wuxi, near Shanghai.

On arrival, Mr Maclean was involved in the development of a purpose-build school with students from three to 18. A second role in China was in an Eton House school, in Xian, home to the famous Terracotta Army.

That led to a temporary principal role at a secondary school in India for a year before spending six years as principal and director in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Many of the jobs were contracts for private schools in huge gated communities for westerners working abroad, including oil companies and banks, and at one school majority of the students were from Texas.

Mr Maclean worked for the International Schools Services which manage many high quality schools around the world.


He attended annual principal conferences in New York focused on best practice and current issues affecting international schools, and took his turn to present at these conferences and other conferences in South East Asia.

The teaching safari has given Mr Maclean a unique view of the different education systems around the world. He says New Zealand teachers are highly regarded worldwide, as is the education system.

These schools provided numerous opportunities to up-skill their staff and Mr Maclean regularly attended teaching conferences and courses, finding time to complete a Diploma in Management while in China and personal development courses throughout South East Asia.

During his time away he completed a Masters in Leadership and Management from Leicester University in England.

Mr Maclean also spent time as an accrediting officer for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (similar to our ERO), accrediting schools within South East Asia. He also worked for the International Baccalaureate as a accreditation officer, consultant, and workshop leader.

The teaching journey originally started for Mr Maclean after he completed a four-year degree majoring in physical education at Massey University.

He taught at Levin Intermediate for five years before gaining the principal's role in Kopane School in Palmerston North, in what were trying conditions. Mr Maclean rebuilt the school after was destroyed in the 2004 Manawatū floods.

The small country school couldn't be used at the time due to flooding, so classes were held in a church at the nearby Highden Manor. Mr Maclean oversaw the school being rebuilt.

The school received a growing ERO report shortly after returning to the school site; which prompted the then Prime Minister, Helen Clarke, to helicopter to the school.

Mr Maclean was a former top rugby player. A Horowhenua schoolboy rep, he played for Massey university before gaining selection for New Zealand Colts and New Zealand University teams.

He went on to play rugby in Scotland before coming back to teach at Highland Intermediate in New Plymouth.

Mr Maclean had propped for Horowhenua, Manawatū and Taranaki during the 1990s, and was part of the Taranaki team that took the Ranfurly Shield from Auckland in 1996, only to lose his spot to returning All Black Bull Allen when they lost to Waikato a week later.

An injury playing for Brive in France in the European Championship left him with his leg in a cast for four months, which ended his overseas playing career and allowed him to focus on teaching.

Maclean takes over from acting principal Donna Rowe at the start of next term.