China's expanding international school options

ISC Research director Richard Gaskell explains why the availability of international schools in China is increasing rapidly, despite a system of segmentation in the international-schools market.

Below is an extract from this article published in Relocate's Guide to International Education & Schools 2017. Click below if you are interested in receiving a full printed copy of the guide.

The international-schools market in China is a segmented one, and severe restrictions are imposed on local children whose families wish them to attend foreign-owned schools. However, there is an increasing demand by Chinese families for Western-style education taught in the English language, and so different types of international school are emerging to cater specifically for these students.Understanding this segmentation is important for expatriate families when they are preparing for a move to China.

China’s international-school options

The international-schools market in China is relatively young. The latest data from ISC Research, which tracks developments in the world’s international-schools market, identifies 566 English-medium international schools in China. Most of these are located in Tier 1 cities, with 25 per cent in Beijing and 20 per cent in Shanghai. Many others are located in the provincial capitals, such as Shenzhen, Chengdu and Guangzhou. Not all these schools are for expatriates.ISC Research’s market intelligence report for China states that the aspirations of Chinese families for an English-medium, internationally oriented education are fuelling demand. This is now driving the development of a new segment of international schools, including those that involve partnerships between a Chinese owner and a foreign school, and bilingual schools with an international focus on teaching and learning.[…]3e is a mid-sized school that supports student and family well-being. “All our students learn both English and Chinese, with equal emphasis placed on both languages throughout school,” says principal Amy Loveday-Hu. “Class sizes are small and teacher-to-student ratios high, to allow for optimal teacher-student interaction. Education of the whole child is a vital part of the 3e philosophy.”IB World School Shanghai Community International School (SCIS) has three campuses in the city. “With over 58 nationalities represented on our campuses,” says marketing and communications manager Mun Yee Choo, “SCIS offers a truly international experience.”SCIS Hongqiao (Grade 2 to Grade 12) and SCIS Pudong (nursery to Grade 12) offer US college admissions tests the Advanced Placement, the ACT and the SAT. Both campuses provide modern facilities, such as indoor swimming pools and multipurpose gyms. SCIS Hongqiao ECE (nursery to Grade 1) has tailored its curriculum with the ‘whole child’ in mind. Facilities include outdoor play centres and a junior running track.

Exploring the range of international schools

Four distinct types of international school are allowed by China’s Ministry of Education:
  • Schools for children of foreign workers (SCFW), colloquially known as ‘expat schools’, provide international education for the expatriate community and are also accessible to the children of Chinese families who have a foreign passport, and ethnic Chinese students migrating from other Asian countries. They are not allowed to enrol Chinese nationals.
  • Sino-foreign cooperative schools are joint ventures between a Chinese owner and a foreign education company or school. These are restricted to secondary and higher education. The foreign organisation typically provides the teaching and learning, while the Chinese partner provides the land and financial investment. Both expatriate and Chinese students can attend these schools.
  • Chinese-owned private schools are able to provide bilingual learning. An increasing number of Chinese/English bilingual private schools that have a distinctly international focus are opening. Many offer internationally recognised examinations and diplomas. These schools mostly serve Chinese students.
  • A few Chinese-owned public/state schools are now running an international stream as an option for high-school students.

Expanding international education in china

The international-schools market has developed significantly in China in recent years, with several UK independent schools making their mark. Dulwich College led the way in 2004 and now has four schools, two in Shanghai and one each in Beijing and Suzhou. It was followed in 2005 by Harrow, which opened a school in Beijing.Wellington College is another example of a UK independent school seeing success in China. It opened its first school (in Tianjin) in 2011 and a second (in Shanghai) in 2014. […] The two Wellington schools in China reflect the UK school in environment, infrastructure, learning and teaching, but they also value and draw upon their Chinese location.[…]Concordia International School Shanghai was established in 1998 and teaches over 1,100 students aged from three to 18. High-school principal Christopher Schuster says, “An international education provides students with multiple cultural perspectives to view the world. We identify the strengths and challenges for our students as they live overseas, away from their passport cultures. A child will grow in their cross-cultural understanding and confidence that they can make a difference in the world.All these schools are accessible only to the children of expatriates and Chinese children who have parents with foreign passports.[…]
Concordia International School Shanghai

Other options

In addition to the UK independent schools now established in China, many other international-school options exist for families relocating to the country’s leading centres for trade. One example is the International School of Beijing, which was established in 1980 as the first international school in the city, to offer a local education option to the children of foreign diplomats.[…]In addition to relocations from Beijing, major companies are being lured from Hong Kong, where the lack of international-school places is deterring many expatriate families from accepting assignments.According to ISC Research data, the number of international schools in Shanghai increased by 39 per cent between May 2010 and May 2014. These schools currently educate around 69,000 students.The oldest and largest international school in the city is Shanghai American School. Built on two campuses, it provides a US-oriented curriculum for more than 1,700 children and boasts the largest English-language library in China. Based on continued demand for places, the school opened an additional Pre-K (pre-kindergarten) class in September 2015.
Shanghai American School

International schools for chinese children

Schools currently experiencing the most growth are those accessible to local children. A number of UK independent schools are involved in these developments.In addition to having four international schools dedicated to expatriates in China, Dulwich College works with two high schools, in Suzhou and Zhuhai, to offer a UK-oriented curriculum to Chinese nationals. Students study for IGCSEs and A Levels, with the aim of progressing to higher education in the UK or the US.In 2012, Malvern College Qingdao opened as a purpose-built international secondary school licensed by the Chinese authorities for Chinese nationals. Students follow an English-speaking foundation course in preparation for A Levels. Ancillary programmes are also provided, to help develop high-level English literacy and language skills. The college opened a second international secondary school for Chinese nationals in Chengdu in September 2015.HD Ningbo School, in Zhejiang province, is another school meeting requirements to accept Chinese nationals. It is bilingual and, because it offers a dual curriculum that is part Chinese in the junior school, local Chinese students are allowed to attend.The school is partnered with the UK’s Hurtwood House School. “Hurtwood House specialises in sixth form and A Levels, and that’s a perfect match for us; they help us with a lot of things, particularly the education philosophy and the teaching and learning,” said Tao Sun, owner and chairman of HD Ningbo.[…] 

Recent developments

For expatriates, the latest international schools include United World College (UWC) Changshu, which opened in September 2015 in the Yangtze Delta. The school caters for 520 students and offers the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme plus a one-year pre-IB preparatory programme. […]Harrow International School Shanghai opened in August 2016. It is situated on the newly developed Sunland project, 30 minutes from the centre of Shanghai. The school provides learning for all years up to Year 13, and will offer both day and boarding facilities by 2018. ISC Research provides data and market intelligence for the world’s English-medium international-schools market.Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online Directory  Get access to our free Global Mobility Toolkit

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