Entering the new era of British education in Japan

Written by Sanae Samata
May 19, 2023


Written by Sanae Samata
May 19, 2023

British education is thriving in Japan, with a number of prestigious institutions establishing new campuses in the biggest expansion in UK education in the country since 2018. Japan’s famed safety, stability and proximity to growing Asian markets have contributed to the boom, while parents are increasingly seeking a broader, more international education for their children.

The new arrivals include Harrow, Malvern College and Rugby School, adding an estimated 3,000 student places, together with ongoing expansion by the established British School in Tokyo (BST) and others.

Alongside this growth, Japan has been warming up to the internationalisation of education, in part sparked by the pandemic, which has highlighted the benefits of a global mindset and made people feel more connected to global issues.

The rise of British education and the opportunities it presents was examined at an event entitled, “Entering the New Era of British Education in Japan,” which was hosted by the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan at Grand Hyatt Tokyo in May.

The panellists at this topical discussion comprised Eleanor Loran, head of primary at BST; Mike Spencer, headmaster of Malvern College Tokyo; Tony Darby, founding principal of Rugby School Japan; and Sayumi Otake, president of education consultancy Office Otake Inc., with moderation by Matthew Knowles, director Japan, British Council cultural counsellor at the British Embassy Tokyo.


British offerings 

Among the new arrivals, Malvern College Tokyo aims to be the first British-branded all-through International Baccalaureate (IB) candidate school in Tokyo, with its opening set for August 2023. Spencer said Tokyo added to its other international campuses including in Europe, China and Hong Kong, and would serve a “broad population of students.”

“We are opening our doors to students who want an international style of education, students who see their futures perhaps in universities overseas, and students who align with the values of the IB and the Malvern mission,” he said, adding that 13 nationalities are currently enrolled.

Another new entrant, Rugby School Japan, is expected to become the first British boarding school in the greater Tokyo region when it opens its doors in September, subject to approval. Located in Kashiwanoha Smart City, Chiba Prefecture, the school will cater for students from years seven to 13, providing IGCSE (the international version of the GCSE) and A-level academic qualifications.

“Rugby School Japan is the second sister school of Rugby UK, after Rugby School Thailand opened in 2017 … what we’re trying to do is provide an authentic representation of Rugby,” Darby said. “We have a tagline, ‘The Whole Person, The Whole Point,’ which means looking after the whole person and ensuring we have a truly holistic offering for the children, and that’s really at the core of what we offer.”

Meanwhile, the established BST is undergoing its own expansion as it broadens its educational offering. Founded in 1989, the school started out by serving largely British expatriate families but has since grown to accommodate a large percentage of children with one Japanese parent and one non-Japanese parent, who account for more than a third of its 1,000 students.

On May 12, UK Secretary of State for Education Gillian Keegan and British Ambassador to Japan Julia Longbottom officially opened BST’s new primary school campus at Azabudai Hills, located near its secondary school at Showa Women’s University.

“A British school designed by British architects, in the heart of Japan, partnering with one of the most important Japanese companies [developer Mori Building Corporation], shows how well and widely British education has been accepted in Japan, and the close links that we celebrate between our countries,” said Keegan at the opening.

BST’s Loran told the BCCJ seminar that the school “offers an educational experience from age three all the way up to 18; we are non-selective, inclusive—a community school.”


Reasons for enrolling

Asked about the reasons Japanese families choose British schools, Otake said there were two key themes: special learning support and pastoral care.

“Some Japanese students are very highly skilled in non-verbal skills and maths, but low in verbal skills,” she said, adding they can receive “very good learning support” from the British education system.

Moreover, British schools “treat children as adults,” unlike their Japanese counterparts, and there are limited opportunities for English language education in Japanese schools, she noted.

Otake, who has assisted Japanese individuals and organisations with UK school enrolment for the past eight years, said she has been receiving more enquiries since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Furthermore, the number of Japanese parents sending their children to international schools at a younger age, as well as switching from prestigious Japanese schools to consider global educational opportunities such as at British schools, is increasing, she said.

Spencer noted the appeal of Malvern’s focus on entrepreneurship, financial literacy, sustainability and community. It’s about “not just business but how young people add value,” he said, adding that other key elements include the broad benefits of an IB education.

“We know that students who have been through an IB education are very attractive to universities as they have a broader base of subjects at the point of leaving school,” he said.

BST’s Loran noted that although the school followed the English National Curriculum, it also could “adopt and contextualise” the curriculum to best suit student needs, such as adopting the IB curriculum for years 12 and 13. Other new approaches include developing areas such as concept-based learning, sustainability and peace education.

Rugby School’s Darby stressed the need to “give children opportunities to try different things, both inside and outside the classroom,” explaining that “building character is important and helping children be brave is something that schools should always be doing.”

Asked about how to respond to the rise of artificial intelligence, the panellists agreed it should be treated as an opportunity, not a threat, as a means to enhance the role of the teacher rather than diminish it.