Types of Schools in China Explained
Truly International Schools
Curriculum used is different from the national curriculum in the school's country of residence, students are mainly expatriate.
An international school is a school that promotes international education, in an international environment, either by adopting a curriculum such as that of the International Baccalaureate, US Common Core or IGCSE, or by following a national curriculum different from that of the school's country of residence.
This type of school is what most people visualise when they think of teaching abroad - a UK school with UK curriculum and British students taught by British teachers. It just happens that the school is not in the UK. Many decades ago, when international relocation was done by few people, this kind of school was the only type available, but now they represent the smallest proportion of international schools worldwide.
There are a number of international schools in China that are well established and well known. Having been some of the first international schools in the country, they often charge fees to parents that are at the top of the regional range and therefore offer very competitive employment packages to teachers. Anyone looking to work here would be required to have full teaching certification and at least two years of experience working with the target curriculum.
Curriculum adapted from another country but children and parents are mainly from the host national country.
In recent years the biggest development in the sector has been the evolution of the local bilingual schools with an increased focus on English / Mandarin bilingual schools leading to further teaching opportunities.
Bilingual schools in China differ from international schools in two fundamental ways. The first is that the majority, if not all, of the students are Chinese. This means the majority of the student body has mandarin as their first language. The second is that the structure of the curriculum is an amalgam of the Chinese state curriculum and selected foreign curriculum; for example, combining the Shanghai National Curriculum (SNC) with the IB curriculum. Schools often offer more than one foreign curriculum. This system allows teachers greater flexibility to plan lessons according to the requirements of their students as aspects of different curriculum can be combined for the optimum learning environment.
This flexibility can be seen in other ways, most prominently the teaching language; generally split 50/50 between English and Mandarin, but sometimes by subject. The same flexibility is seen in the assignment of lessons. At many bilingual schools’ teachers are paired; one international teacher and one native teacher. These two teachers sometimes run classes as a team, alternating the lead teacher, and lead language, every class. However, the split may be different; it could be that some subjects are the sole responsibility of one of these teachers and always taught in one language, the other teacher and language used for the remainder.
One of the main goals for the parents of the children attending these schools is to give their child access to aspects of a Western education, in anticipation for possible future study abroad, whilst keeping them in touch with their Chinese heritage and traditions.
Since there are a large number of bilingual schools across China, the entry criteria can vary wildly. Some schools will only look for certified teachers with a minimum of two years teaching experience, whilst others will happily work with TEFL qualified English and other subject teachers with less experience. Regardless of your starting point, bilingual private schools present some of the best opportunities for career development and work-life balance.
It would not be an exaggeration to state there used to be thousands of English Language training centres across China, dozens in every city. Following COVID and changes in education policies, the number of training centres has dwindled. However, a few are still operating and presenting a great opportunity for fresh graduates as they do not require any previous teaching experience.
The focus here is on the after-class teaching, class sizes are kept small and the centre may or may not provide curriculum to follow. It is essential to research the training centre you are interested in before accepting any offers and check with their hiring team what the class structure is like, what curriculum they apply or what books they use. Classes are typically in the afternoons and weekends offering a lot of flexibility during the day. The salaries tend to be high, however, the number of holidays is limited and teachers will usually be expected to work 40-hours per week.
Due to the visa restrictions, training centres can only provide legal working visas to teachers from Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, UK, US and South Africa. All teachers must have a Bachelor’s degree and 120-TEFL certificate to be able to obtain a working visa.