Westminster School is to pull the plug on its China operation after a new Communist Party ruling stipulated that all lesson plans must be approved by Beijing.
The school unveiled its plans in 2017 to set up a sister institution bearing its name in Chengdu in China’s Sichuan province.
But on Tuesday, Westminster’s chairman of governors told parents that this project has now been axed following “recent changes in Chinese education policy”.
Earlier this year it emerged that British-branded private schools in China will be forced to abandon their curricula and teach only lessons approved by Beijing as part of a broader push led by president Xi Jinping to ensure the “right” thinking.
The new regulations mean that international schools must now teach the same lessons as China’s state-run public schools from kindergarten to grade nine.
All private schools must now “uphold the leadership of the Communist Party of China”, a move aimed at giving Beijing greater oversight on what children learn.
The new rules, which take effect in September, also limit foreign control and participation in the running of private schools, mandate that school board members are Chinese, and seek to regulate expensive tuition fees.
Stephen Spriggs, the managing director at the consultancy firm William Clarence Education, said: “There was always a risk with schools viewing China as the land paved with gold. You are liable to a change in their government’s policy.”
He said he suspects more British schools will pull out of China and instead target more “politically stable” countries.
Westminster, whose alumni include the philosopher John Locke, author A.A. Milne and the former deputy prime minister Sir Nick Clegg, charges £43,270 a year for boarders.
Some of the country’s leading private schools have set up campuses in the Far East over the past decade.
The £42,630-a-year Wellington College has five schools in China and one in Thailand. It set up its first overseas school – Wellington College International Tianjin – a decade ago.
Meanwhile, Harrow School runs 11 schools in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand. North London Collegiate School has a satellite campus in South Korea, Dubai and Singapore.
Most private schools use a “franchise” model, where an investor or management company pays the school a fixed amount each year – similar to a royalty – in order to use their name, brand or expertise.
Under this model, the British “mothership” school is often paid a percentage of the school fees each year, on top of the franchise fee.
Mark Batten, the chairman of Westminster’s governing body, wrote to parents and alumni to tell them about his “great regret” that the school’s China project is being wound down.
“As I am sure you can imagine, the formation of a brand new 2,000-pupil school, including the construction of all its buildings and the development of a bilingual curriculum for children aged three to 18, is no small undertaking – one which in this case has been heavily impacted by the global Covid-19 pandemic, as well as recent changes in Chinese education policy,” he said.
“This has created numerous financial and logistical challenges for the Hong Kong-based operator of the proposed new school. In spite of a number of attempts by the operator to restructure and refinance the operations, in which FOHL participated as licensor, this has proved not to be possible.
“All development work has been halted both in terms of the site and curriculum, and staff who had been working there are no longer to be employed by the operator.”