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New regulations in China force curriculum requirements

Amendments to Chinese Government regulations for private schools which were announced recently, will impact all schools in China offering international education to local Chinese children. It is believed the motivation for the new enforcements are as a result of the increasing number of costly private bilingual schools in China delivering learning in both Chinese and English, some of which have not been abiding by existing laws.

The regulations (which were announced in October and earlier this month) will come into effect from September 2017. They focus on requirements for curricula and fees at non-public schools in China. Non-public schools fall into two categories: not-for profit and for-profit schools. The new amendments deliver broad statements enforcing the following principles:

  • For-profit non-public schools are prohibited throughout China for compulsory age children (grades 1 to 9).
  • Not-for-profit non-public schools are to be treated in the same way as public schools within China. This includes strict regulations regarding curriculum requirements. The authorities will determine what fees may be charged for grades 1 to 9 bearing in mind costs associated with running the school.
  • For-profit non-public schools for other ages (including early childhood and kindergartens, high schools, higher education and adult education) are subject to discretion of Chinese investors and education providers, and are free to price their provision independently.

Detailed implementation guidance is yet to be published by the authorities.

Although rumours have been rife that non-public schools will be closing down, this is not the case. The new amendments will, however, mean that non-public schools must ensure they adopt an appropriate structure that adheres to the Government’s curriculum requirements. This is something that many such schools in China are already implementing. For example, at Wellington College Bilingual Shanghai, a curriculum was created for this reason. “We appreciate the need to respect local regulations and meet any requirements,” says Helen Kavanagh, International Business Director at Wellington College. “We spent many months working alongside Chinese colleagues to ensure the syllabus at our bilingual schools will cover the Chinese and British curricula, taught through a Wellington approach that embraces collaborative, experiential learning in order to provide our children with the best chance of success in the modern world.” At YK Pao School, a not-for-profit non-public school in Shanghai that is licensed to offer an international programme, Executive Principal, Paul Wood says: “With skilful planning and scheduling, international curricula can sit around the outside of a mandatory core academic programme, which is exactly what we’ve been doing and continue to refine.”  This is also being achieved at Keystone Academy in Beijing, where the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) is delivered in combination with the Chinese National Curriculum. “The reason we selected the IPC is that there’s flexibility with it, which meant that we could adapt it for our requirements as a Chinese school with a bilingual immersion programme,” says Assistant Head of Primary, Gary Bradshaw.  Some schools however, were introducing foreign curricula in their entirety, without meeting Chinese curriculum requirements, particularly at grade 9 and this is now prohibited.

As a result of the new regulations, the challenge for China’s non-public schools wishing to offer international qualifications is that Chinese children will have to study the Chinese curriculum and sit the Zhong Kao (China’s national examination) through grade 9. This will severely restrict the chance for children to study for such international qualifications as the IGCSE which follows a two-year course of study at grades 9 and 10, preparing children well for the learning needs of A levels or IB Diploma. Nevertheless, non-public schools in China do have the chance to deliver international curricula from grades 10 onwards in combination with some Chinese curriculum requirements. These include the study of Chinese politics, Chinese history and geography, and Chinese language, all of which are required to be taught by Chinese nationals. This does mean that Chinese children can study for such qualifications as A levels, Advanced Placement or IB Diploma.

“These new enforcements are unlikely to stop any Chinese families, who wish for their child to study in a Western university, seeking out internationally-oriented non-public school options in China. The demand is huge,” says Richard Gaskell, Director for International Schools at ISC Research which provides data and intelligence on the world’s international schools market. “The challenge for these schools will be to meet the requirements of the Chinese curriculum and also prepare students in the best possible way for higher education opportunities abroad,” he adds.

Dr Mark Abell, Partner and Head of International Education at British law firm Bird&Bird says: “Although there have been rumours that the so-called ‘Third Amendment’ of the regulations spell the end of dual curriculum education between grades 1 to 9, this is manifestly not the case.” For independent schools considering expansion of their brand into China, Mark says: “What this does mean is that schools will need to ensure that their arrangements with local partners are properly structured, they do an appropriate level of due diligence in their partner’s proposed structure, and they ensure that their Chinese schools comply with the operational requirements for ‘not for profit non-public schools’. Whilst this may involve a little more work and possibly slightly slow things down, it does not present any kind of barrier to schools entering China and teaching grades 1 to 9,” he explains.

More details about all Chinese regulations for private schools, including the very latest amendments, plus market trends, opportunities and challenges for investment and development are included in the Market Intelligence Report for International Schools in China published by ISC Research.

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Further reading: Sixth Tone: New law to quash for-profit schools has parents stressed (published 11th November 2016)