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Interview with David Goodwin, principal of Britannica International School, Shanghai

Updated 15 Jan 2019

Helmed by principal David Goodwin, Britannica International School is one of Shanghai's most prominent British-curriculum schools. Read on to learn more about the school's teaching philosophies, as well as general advice on culture shock, settling in to expat life in Shanghai, and how to choose the right international school.

David%20Goodwin.jpgQ: Tell us about your school. When was it founded, what is its ethos, and what are its goals for the future?

Britannica was founded in 2013 by Orbital Education, which also owns and manages nine other British international schools across the world. Our commitment to our parents is to bring the very best of British education to Shanghai. We are currently the only fully British-owned, -managed and -staffed school in the city, with 95 percent of our expatriate teachers being British-born, trained and experienced in delivering the English National Curriculum. Our vision is to provide a fully inclusive and inspiring academic and co-curricular programme that empowers students to learn to work collaboratively with peers from other cultures and nationalities, enabling them to become future global leaders in the workplace and in their lives.

Q: What curriculum does your school follow?

Our curriculum is very similar to that found in the best private schools in the UK; with a strong focus on academic achievement supported by excellent provision in Sports, Music, Drama and the Arts. We have also developed a strong native language programme that provides extra lessons for our native Chinese, Korean, Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian and Hebrew students.  We believe strongly in our children developing fluency in English, Mandarin and their native home language and as such many of our students are now bilingual or even trilingual language learners. Our older students study IGCSE and A-levels, with our graduates going to some of the best universities in the UK, USA and around the world.

Q: What factors should expats consider when choosing a school in Shanghai?

We recognise that there is not one school in Shanghai that is a best fit for all students. Britannica’s differences suit children and parents who are seeking a smaller school, which has a strong British ethos, with small classes and more personalised learning than that which can be found in some of the larger Shanghai schools.

Q: Why would you encourage expats to choose an international school rather than a public school?

Our recent Council of International School (CIS) accreditation praises the fact that we are fully preparing our students to be skilled to meet the needs of being a global citizen for when they graduate. Expat families are already living a life of global citizenship and as such we feel it is important that their child’s school prepare them also for that life. This is something that public schools with their more constrained curriculum and less experienced global teachers would be challenged to provide.

Q: Are there scholarships and financial aid available? Do most companies help with tuition?

Many of our families have funding for school fees provided by their companies, but more and more non-funded parents are realising the provision that schools like Britannica can provide and are therefore self-funding. Again, this is typical of private schools in the UK, in which nearly all families self-fund their child’s school fees. I self-funded my two daughters through a similar style private education back in the UK because of my strong belief in its value. We currently have a scholarship programme for children entering our IGCSE and A-level programme in our secondary school.

Q: How does a child gain admission – how can parents improve their chances of acceptance? Is preference given based on nationality or company sponsorship?

Any child who has a foreign passport or if one of their parents has a foreign passport are eligible to join us at Britannica by applying online to Our friendly and welcoming admissions team will be pleased to give interested parents a personal introduction to the school, a guided tour and an opportunity to meet either myself or one of our senior leadership team. Our students come from a variety of backgrounds so our admissions assessments look at the overall cognitive ability of the students to make sure that we can meet their needs rather than what they are achieving in their current school or their English language ability.  Each child is looked at as an individual and there is no preferential selection made.

Q: How does the standard of education compare with that of the Western world that many of the expats are used to? Class size? Level of professionalism? Understanding of child psychology?

Our teaching standards are exceptionally high, all our teachers undergo a rigorous performance management and our teacher recruitment policy is based on only selecting the very best teachers available on the international market. Our good reputation as a school among international teachers also means that we can be highly selective at recruitment stage. The quality of our provision is measured both internationally (through CIS) and compared to the highest standards in the UK.  As such, parents can be guaranteed that the education that their child will receive at Britannica will be comparable to the best private schools in the UK. British teachers understand that the pastoral care of their students has similar priority to high academic standards and all our teachers are trained in basic child psychology through their teaching qualifications.  Many of our teachers also have higher degrees at MA level.

Q: What are the most common aspects of culture shock children seem to go through when moving to Shanghai?

Children tend to be very adaptable to new environments and in our experience it is their parents who experience the largest cultural shock moving internationally. Our close networking parent community at Britannica offers support to new parents joining the school, enabling them to settle more quickly into the city.

Q: How would you advise parents to prepare their children for a new school in Shanghai?

We are very welcoming to the idea of children having taster days with us prior to joining and children will always join their parents on a tour of the school at Admissions. The younger children will have an opportunity to meet their new class teacher before starting with us as well as their parents having time to meet and discuss their child with the class teacher before joining to make sure we know as much about them as possible to ensure they settle quickly. Parents working closely and openly with the school prior to their child joining will always ensure the best transition.

Q: Is there a local flavour to the classes in your international school?

We value the culture and environment in which the school finds itself situated in Shanghai, and giving our students an opportunity to learn the local language and learn about Chinese culture is something that both we as a school and our parents value. We make the most of living in this wonderfully diverse city and all our students from Pre-Nursery to Year 13 have regular trips and expeditions to locations in Shanghai and further afield in China. Aspects of our Geography and History curriculum are adapted to include relevant education about China and Asia.

Q: Why would you encourage expats to enrol their children at your school specifically? What are the advantages in comparison with other international schools?

Our Britishness, excellent location, relative smaller size, focus on native language development, high-quality teaching, personalised learning and an opportunity for all our students to be fully involved in all areas of school life will always attract parents who are looking for those aspects in their school of choice. Many of our new parents come to us on recommendation by our current parents. We are a happy, well-organised and -managed school with excellent facilities and when new parents walk through our doors for the first time these are the first things that they notice and comment on. We recommend any parent who shares these values to make a visit to us.

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