Leading an international school in China – new research

“Whatever you know and wherever you have worked, China will surprise you in every way possible.
– Principal, international school in China

China is now the country with the largest and fastest-growing number of international schools, with perhaps greater opportunities in terms of educational careers, investments and partnerships than anywhere else in the world.  At the same time, however, it is also seen as a particularly challenging environment where risks are high.


Our latest research explores the features of international schools, and the range and challenges of headship roles.  

Barry Speirs, Head of Leadership Consultancy at RSAcademics and author, visited China last year as part of the research.

He commented on his findings, “Our report is written very much from the perspective of the expat principal working in China.  By ‘international school’, we mean a school in mainland China that teaches at least part of its curriculum in English. However, that’s where the similarity ends, as we found huge differences in the reality of the leaders’ roles in different schools.”


As well as the challenges, the report highlights the huge positives of working in China:

“Some of the schools are truly amazing creations. Their scale, facilities, quality, design and level of investment are second to none.”


The China report explores:

  • What’s it like leading an international school in China?
  • Is it really more challenging than other locations?
  • What are the features of China and its international schools?
  • Why do some leaders thrive and others hardly get off the ground?
  • What due diligence should be undertaken by people considering working, investing or partnering there?



What people are saying about this latest research:

“We found this report very useful when thinking about the leadership of our new schools in China.” 
Patrick Mulvihill, Development Director, Uppingham School


“A very informative report, well presented and astute. I am sure many of those considering taking up posts in China will find it invaluable.”
Vicky Tuck, former Director General of The International School of Geneva


“An excellent and informative introduction, dare I say guidebook, to the demands, rewards, and, possibly more relevant, pitfalls of school leadership in modern day China.”  

David Cook Head Master, Harrow International School, Shanghai


“A good read and a very accurate reflection of the wide ranging experiences of heads and quality of schools in China.”
Paul Wallace-Woodroffe, Headmaster, Wycombe Abbey International School, Changzhou, China



You can access all our research reports from our publications section >


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