British-Chinese fusion schools a growing force

By Christopher Georgiou
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, March 21, 2018
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At a press conference hosted at the British Embassy in Beijing on March 20, the U.K. Department of International Trade (DIT) introduced a panel of British-school delegates to discuss the rising trend and advantages of a fusion education provided by British-style schools in China.

Rendered aerial image of Wycombe Abbey International School in Hangzhou, China, under construction in 2018. [Photo courtesy of Wycombe Abbey International School]

Despite the complex legal framework surrounding education in China, there is a growing presence of British-style schools appearing, seeking to combine the best of both worlds and produce bilingual and resilient global citizens of tomorrow.

According to the DIT, the number of international and bilingual schools in China nearly doubled in a five-year period, from 372 in 2011 to 737 in 2016, and is forecast to reach 1,000 by 2020. Out of all these schools, 50 percent offer the British upper-grade A-level courses.

Currently, Chinese law distinguishes between international schools in China, which only foreign passport holders can attend, and private bilingual schools, which both foreigners and Chinese nationals can attend. In the latter case, the syllabi and teaching materials must be in line with the national curriculum. An exception to the law for Chinese nationals is that they can attend international schools and early year centers between the ages of 2 and 6; and for A-levels between the ages of 16-18.

So what can British-style schools in China offer?

Julian Jeffrey, Headmaster of Wellington College International Tianjin, said that their early year centers can "cherry pick" the best parts of the Chinese education system and combine them with a system that instils leadership, innovation and creativity as well as English at a young age to give children the best start in life.

As for teaching methods, Jeffrey said: "The aim is to integrate pastoral and academic education—as both are equally important, whereby pastoral focuses on the well-being of the student." He explained that data measuring the impact of pastoral care "suggests that strong pastoral programs increase academic performance by 10-20 percent."

"Well-being is a statutory requirement in the U.K.—results are not everything," Jeffrey added. "It's more important to produce a culture that leads an individual to be successful in their new work environment after school."

Peter Dunne, an advisor from Durham School and teacher of 50 years, said that the difference between countries' education standards is pedagogy—how teachers teach and how children learn. "We introduce elements that will encourage application of learning. So every student will do a range of non-academic internationally accredited awards, in arts, music, theatre, sports… whatever suits their personality," said Dunne, "so that students can learn to think outside the box and be creative."

"We will have a university faculty in the school to provide foundation level degrees… So some highly trained technologists and scientists can go straight into employment from [secondary] school," said Dunne, adding that, "this is the way we intend to support the Belt and Road Initiative, by joining in China's future."

Education is a significant industry in the U.K., founded in the tradition of teaching, academic expertise and the English language. It has been a crucial component of the new U.K.-China Golden Era and was a major focus of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May's visit to China early this year, when £550 million in education deals were announced. Fifteen of those deals are collaborative projects between U.K. schools or kindergartens and their Chinese partners, with the goal of setting up foreign passport-holder schools and private bilingual schools in China.

As of the end of 2017, around 10 British independent schools have already set up overseas branches in China, with over 25 campuses in total. It is estimated that over 20 British school brands will have a presence in China by the end of 2020, with over 50 campuses across the country, said the Head of DIT Education China, Liu Jing, adding that the U.K. national curriculum is one of the most popular in the world, with a more than 40 percent market share.

As for tuition, some bursaries are available for students whose parents cannot afford the fees yet feel they would benefit by attending, but this aid is limited. When asked how much parents can expect to invest in school fees, Jeffrey quipped, "Expect to pay a premium!"

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