How British education is thriving in Asia

Anthony Rowlands, Principal of The British International School, Hanoi, gives an insight into the growth and popularity of British schools overseas...

  • Welcome to British International School Hanoi

British style education internationally is thriving and that is certainly true of Asia. The number of schools offering a British style curriculum has grown significantly over the last 15 years. The British International School Hanoi, where I am the Founding Principal, began operating in August 2012. We have proved to be very popular with the Vietnamese and expat communities and the school is thriving. We are proud to be associated with our sister school, BIS HCMC, which has been operating in HCMC since 1998 and is firmly established as the leading international school in that city. Additionally, we are part of the Nord Anglia Education family of premium schools which brings us many additional benefits. Just like most British schools overseas, we basically follow the English National Curriculum but enrich it with Vietnamese culture, history and geography.

The National Curriculum for England sets out a clear, full and statutory entitlement to learning for all pupils. It determines the content of what will be taught, and sets attainment targets for learning. It also determines how performance will be assessed and reported. To complement the national curriculum at BIS Hanoi we run the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) in the Primary School leading to IGCSE and IBDP in the Secondary School. We offer a very rigorous curriculum to prepare our students for life in the 21st Century.

In October 2015, BIS Hanoi was officially confirmed as members of the Federation of British Schools in Asia (FOBISIA). This is a large federation of British type schools based in Asia and schools are required to follow a comprehensive application process in order to gain membership. FOBISIA currently has 52 member schools and is growing annually which reflects the popularity of a British education in Asia. As the FOBISIA website states: 

In 1988 Ronald Stones OBE, who was then the Principal of British International School, Jakarta, suggested that Headteachers of Britsh Schools in South East Asia meet in order to discuss matters of mutual interest, and offer each other support in delivering a British type curriculum far removed from home base.

The federation started life as FOBISSEA (Federation of British International Schools in South East Asia & East Asia) and in the first meeting (hosted by Mr. Stones in Jakarta) five Principals attended from Kota Kinabalu International School, British School Manila, Tanglin Trust School Singapore, Bangkok Patana School, and Alice Smith School Kuala Lumpur. These schools are still members of FOBISIA and are well respected in their various locations.

Prior to becoming the Founding Principal of BIS Hanoi, I had worked as a senior leader at three other British type schools in SE Asia:

– St Christopher’s International School Penang, Malaysia (SCIPS)
– British International School Jakarta, Indonesia (BISJ)
– Harrow International School Bangkok, Thailand (HIS)

Whilst each school is different in character and culture, each brings a quality British-type education to the city and country in which it is located. SCIPS and BISJ contained almost totally expatriate students whist Harrow had a much larger proportion of Thai students in comparison to expatriates. Indeed, many countries in Asia are now allowing host national students to enroll into international schools whilst this was not the case in the past. Examples of recent countries allowing this choice are Malaysia and Indonesia although some countries limit the number of students that are allowed to enroll. Additionally, international schools must provide host national students with a certain amount of Language and Cultural lessons outlined by a particular country’s education department. The fact that host national children are now permitted to be educated in international schools has intensified the need for quality institutions in Asia.

Harrow International School Bangkok is one of three schools operating in Asia under the name of the famous Harrow School in the UK. Many other famous UK Independent schools are now opening schools in Asia – Dulwich College, Shrewsbury, Bromsgrove, Marlborough College, Epsom College and Brighton College along with others. Each of these schools will have various quality assurance procedures in place to monitor the international school’s provision and to ensure that the original school’s reputation is kept intact. There is no doubt that the expansion of the UK independent school franchises will continue in future years.

Recruitment and retention of quality teachers is a key element to the success of any school. At BIS Hanoi we have been successful in retaining our teachers and many of our founding teachers are still with us. Even though at the end of this year a larger number of teachers will be leaving than in previous years, we have managed to have a very successful recruitment programme to replace them. Most British international schools advertise in the TES with some using recruitment agencies to support them. Advertisements are normally placed each year in December with interviews held in January. Many schools ensure that their interview schedules in the UK coincide with major recruitment fairs that may be arranged by such organisations as the Council of International Schools. 

More and more teachers in the UK are applying to teach in British type schools overseas leading to accusations in the UK of a ‘Brain Drain’. Many want to experience life in new countries but also realise that teaching in these schools is a pleasure as most schools are well resourced with highly motivated students. When I reflect on my own move to teach overseas, the intention was to go for three years or so and then maybe return. My wife (also a teacher) and I moved to SE Asia in 1992 and are still here enjoying what this region, and the wonderful British schools within it, brings to our lives. We continue to enjoy BIS Hanoi very much and Vietnam is a delightful place to call home.

For more information about British International School, Hanoi, see its profile on International School Search.

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