During the past six days I have been fortunate enough to visit the No.2 Experimental School in Beijing which is ranked as the best primary school in China and is renowned for its innovative approach to learning. The visit was in partnership with Robin Hood Primary School in Birmingham who have been linked with the Beijing school for five years and as a result have developed a vibrant curriculum which centres around the teaching of Mandarin. Richard Hunter, the executive headteacher of Robin Hood, led the trip.
No.2 Experimental School is an incredible five storey school which has:
- Three storeys of classrooms which hold 4000 children.
- An underground Olympic size swimming pool.
- An underground theatre that enables teachers to demonstrate lessons to other colleagues from across China.
- A school television channel which is recorded from their own studio and is beamed into each classroom – this enables key messages and learning to be seen by the whole school at key parts of the day.
- Two full size indoor gymnasiums.
During the visit I was able to gain a real insight into the Chinese education system and how they approach learning. The school motto and ethos is ‘Love Fosters Love’ and this comes through in every aspect of the school. Miss Lee is the headteacher of the school and the deputy is Mr Sun – both made us feel very welcome along with the rest of the staff who couldn’t do enough for us which included giving up their evenings and weekend to ensure we got the most out of the trip. The children, all of whom were able to greet and speak with me in English, were very positive about their school and the learning that took place. I was able to witness excellent practice in a range of areas but particularly in the following:
- Problem Based Learning (PBL) this is an approach they use to engage their children in topics and is centred around ‘off site’ learning. On this visit we took part in a session at the Summer Palace and the approach is something we will look into further at Park Hill.
- Reflective thinking – this is encouraged by the school through the use of indoor and outdoor reflective areas that promote deeper levels of thinking by the pupils.
- Calligraphy sessions – it was was interesting to see how the approached the writing of Mandarin symbols and I believe that we may look to introduce this into some parts of the school as a way of developing fine motor schools. As a wider community it is also not uncommon to see adults practicing the symbols in parks (see the image below).
- Staff professional development – the school have created a theatre which is specially designed to demonstrate lessons. There is a real emphasis on sharing best practice across the school.
In many ways, Park Hill and No.2 Experimental School are similar in terms of philosophy and the approaches towards extra curricular activities and yet in other ways we are poles apart. As a school, we have more autonomy and yet they have been deemed so successful by the Chinese government that they now run 30 other primary schools which is on a scale not seen in the UK. Following the visit we will now be exploring how we can move things forwards but in the interim we plan to invite the Mandarin teacher and MFL teacher from Robin Hood over to our school to work with the children and staff on Chinese language and culture.