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Like many other services for foreigners in Shanghai, the international school scene has developed at breakneck speed. The good news is that many of them are excellent, the bad news is that they can be very hard to get into. 

Best schools in Shanghai China

Education in Shanghai  

Shanghai now has the largest number of international schools in China. Currently, there are over 40 schools offering either the IB programmes or an English or American curriculum, with some of them favouring a combination. 

But be warned Shanghai also stands out for being among the most expensive cities in the world for education. HR directors of multinationals must inwardly groan when they discover the person the company is sending off to China has four school age children - and heaven help your bank balance if you have to stump up yourself. 

For obvious reasons, expat housing has sprung up around the international schools and in many areas it is possible (and enjoyable) to cycle or walk children to school until the extremes of weather strike in January/February (bracingly cold) and June/July (hot and wet). A more decadent alternative is for your driver to ferry your children to school. All the international schools have a school bus service and a surprising number of people put their children on school buses for even a five-minute journey. But for longer bus routes, tales of doors falling off, accidents and even a sleeping child being left on a bus all day, circulate around the community from time to time. All in all, there is a lot to be said for living close to your school of choice. 

Many of Shanghai’s international schools manage transitions well, and more good news for children’s wellbeing is that the tightly-knit expat communities – and attendance at various extracurricular sporting activities - result in an extensive network across children of all age groups both in and out of school.  

Choosing a school in Shanghai  

The rapid expansion of education in Shanghai has led to some – but definitely not all – schools prioritising getting bums on seats over the quality of teaching and pupil welfare. So, rule number one is not to be dazzled into by spectacular facilities, which can mask a whole host of problems. 

Rule number two is to view the schools as international, following a British or American curriculum, rather than British or American schools. Most international schools in Shanghai are melting pots of nationalities and prospective parents are sometimes surprised that a school following a British or American system does not have a higher percentage of children from those countries enrolled at the school. In fact, in many schools following a British curriculum, British passport holders do not form the majority of enrolled pupils. The same is true for schools following an American curriculum and American passport holders.  

The nationality mix of each school is different but, by and large, international schools in Shanghai have a large Asian population (Taiwanese, South Korean, Hong Kong born Chinese, Indian) alongside the Brits, Americans, Aussies and non-English speaking Europeans. Parents of native English speaking children sometimes complain that, as a consequence, the standard of English in classrooms varies enormously and that non-native speakers are given extra help with getting their English up to scratch in preference to native speakers, who might need help with more routine educational issues. It is not reported to be an issue in every school, or indeed every class, but it can be worth checking the school policy regarding admission of non-native English speakers, and additional ESL help once admitted. Also note that admission to some schools is dependent on applicants having a good standard of English (spoken and written), whereas other schools have a more relaxed policy. 

One thing you shouldn’t expect is that your children will be mixing with the locals at school. International schools within China are not open to Chinese passport holders unless they have special permission from the relevant education authorities. There are, however, plenty of Chinese children with one foreign parent or Chinese children born abroad, thus holding foreign passports. Foreign passport holders are eligible to attend local schools.  

Waiting lists for the popular schools are long, especially for earlier year groups. So put your child’s name down for the school of your choice regardless of what you are told about their chances of getting in. Shanghai is a very transient place and there is a huge turnover of people, especially at the end of the school year in June/July and at Christmas, when many Australians return home in time for the start of a new school year (southern hemisphere, remember).  

In fact, you might want to consider initially putting your children into different schools. It is obviously not ideal but it is very, very common in Shanghai. Eventually siblings all tend to filter into one school as coveted sibling priority exists in most schools.  

Bear in mind that being politely persistent pays off in Shanghai. So whatever your preferred method of pressure – visits to the admin office, emails, calls, tears and tantrums (it has been done!) – keep at it for as long as it takes. If you do nothing, your child’s name will eventually work its way up the waiting list, by which time you could be packing your bags to move on, with your child having twiddled his thumbs for a couple of years at a mediocre school. Your aim is to make sure everyone relevant knows you are impressed by the school, think this is the best place for your child (who would, of course, fit right in) and that you will happily bake several hundred cup-cakes whenever required. Make it clear that you will move your child from his current school, mid-term if necessary, and back up your pleas with reports from previous schools or teachers. If your child is on the cusp of the birthday cut-off date for year groups, ask if there are any spaces in the year below or above, provided, of course, that this is academically appropriate for your child. This can work quite well where the starting dates of the school year, for the school in question, do not match up with schools in your home country.  

Pre-schools, kindergarten and nurseries in Shanghai 

Although not all schools will accept them, it is quite common for expat children to attend local kindergartens, where classes are either totally in Chinese or more commonly a mix of Chinese and English.  

Best schools in Shanghai 

Concordia International School Shanghai (CISS) 

Adapted American curriculum/ American High School Diploma/ AP; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 1,055 students

Opened in 1998, with the support of the Hong Kong International School, with which it still has close relations. All ages on one campus, they offer a US education and college preparation to over 25 nationalities, with American passport holders in a clear majority. In JInqiao, a favourite residential spot for expats in Shanghai. 

Click here to read our full review of Concordia International School Shanghai.

Dulwich College Shanghai Pudong

National Curriculum for England/ IGCSE/ IB Diploma; ages 2-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 1,400 students

Located in the expat suburb of Jinqiao in Pudong and also on a new campus in Puxi, across the river. An international school catering to students from all over the world, with Americans (often American born Chinese) and British forming the largest cohorts. Offers an English education but substitutes the the IB Diploma for A levels. A delightful kindergarten section called ‘Ducks’ (with a long waiting list), housed in a separate building. 

Click here to read our full review of Dulwich College Shanghai.

Shanghai American School (SAS)

American curriculum/ American High School Diploma/ AP/ IB Diploma; ages 4-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 2,700 students

Considered modern and forward-thinking and among the best schools in Asia, following the American curriculum. SAT scores and AP results are well above national averages and leavers head to a spectacular range of universities and colleges. Over 40 nationalities - the majority US passport holders but Asian (often US born) students dominate, particularly at the Puxi campus.  

Click here to read our full review of Shanghai American School (SAS)

These schools have been brought to our attention but until we have reports from parents, we are unable to consider reviewing them.

British International School Shanghai Puxi 

National Curriculum for England/ IGCSE/ IB Diploma; ages 2-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 1,970 students

BISS Puxi, owned by Nord Anglia Education, offers an international version of the National Curriculum for England. On two campuses in the south-west of the city and non-selective (no English requirement) teaching pupils from 18 months to 18 years. Students study for IGCSEs at 16 and then take the two year International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.

Dulwich College Shanghai Puxi

National Curriculum for England/ IGCSE/ IB Diploma (starting 2021); ages 2-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned

The second branch of Dulwich schools to open (2016) in Shanghai. Expanding their educational offering upwards and starting their first International Baccalaureate Diploma programme in 2021. Owned and run by Dulwich College Management International as is their sister school, in Shanghai Pudong, founded in 2003.

Harrow International School

National Curriculum for England/ IGCSE/ A Level: ages 18 months-18; co-ed; day and boarding; independent; privately owned; 1,400 students

Fourth Harrow International School, which was opened in 2016 in the northern part of Pudong on a state of the art, brand new campus with the welcome features of an air-filtration system and roof-top gardens. Licensed by Harrow School to an independent owner but incorporating the ethos of its UK parent. Pupils of 26 nationalities taught in English throughout.

Nord Anglia International School Shanghai Pudong (formerly BISS Pudong)

National Curriculum for England/ IGCSE/ IB Diploma; ages 1-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 1,800 students

Formerly, the British International School of Shanghai Pudong, now owned (as is BISS Puxi) by the rapidly growing Nord Anglia Education group of international schools, who run a stable of schools in China. Follows the same academic programme as its counterparts in the UK, making a school switch simple for returning Brits. As with other Nord Anglia schools, there is an arts programme designed with the Julliard school in New York and a STEM programme, devised with MIT.

Shanghai Community International Schools

PYP/ MYP/ IB Diploma; ages 2-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 1,800 students

Located on campuses both sides of the Huangpu river in Shanghai. Two in Changning (Hongqiao ECE for nursery and kindergarten, Hongqiao for grades 1-12) and one in Pudong (nursery – grade 12). Now over 20 years old and an International Baccalaureate World School, accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

Shanghai Livingston American School (LAS) 

American curriculum/ American High School Diploma/ AP; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 600 students

Opened in 2003, to provide an American-style education and on the current campus in the Changning District since 2005. Following the American (Californian public school) curriculum and accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) since 2009. The global school population is offered intensive ESL classes, to enable class participation in double-quick time.

Shanghai Singapore International School (SSIS)

Adapted curriculum/ MYP/ IGCSE/ IB Diploma/ IB Careers; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 1,400 students

Founded in 1996, integrating its campuses in 2019.Teaching over 40 nationalities but with a large cohort (20 per cent in both cases) from Singapore and South Korea. One of the few schools in Shanghai to offer the International Baccalaureate Careers Programme. Accredited by the Council of International Schools (CIS).

Shanghai United International School Gubei (SUIS)

Adapted National Curriculum for England/ IGCSE/ A Level/ IB Diploma; ages 5-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 1,985 students in all four schools

Founded by one of the largest education organisers in China, the Xiehe Group of over 40 schools and kindergartens in Shanghai and other Chinese cities. Four schools in Shanghai (three in Minhang, one in Pudong) with varying curricula, for example SUIS Pudong follows the National Curriculum of England, leading to IGCSEs and A Levels and SUIS Gubei an adapted East meets West Curriculum followed by the International Baccalaureate Diploma. Parents need to the curriculum offered by each school carefully

Wellington College International Shanghai 

National Curriculum for England/ International Primary Curriculum/ IGCSE/ IB Diploma/ Harkness Method; ages 3-18, co-ed, 1,100 boys and girls, day; independent: private non-profit 

Western International School of Shanghai (WISS)

PYP/ MYP/ IB Diploma/ IB Careers; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 800 students

Located in Xujing Town, west of the city, half an hour from downtown Shanghai and close to Hongqiao International Airport. An 18 acre modern, purpose-built campus providing an all-through education. A selective International Baccalaureate World School and the first one in China to offer all four IB programmes, including  the IB Careers Related Programme. They also provide a significant exposure to Chinese language and culture.

Yew Chung International School Pudong (YCIS Pudong)

Adapted National Curriculum for England/ IGCSE/ IB Diploma; ages 2-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 2,350 students

Part of the Yew Chung network with schools in China and the Silicon Valley in California. Five campuses in Puxi and Pudong, in the south-western area of Shanghai, providing a bilingual environment (an international and a Chinese teacher in each class). Also, a strong Chinese language and culture programme. Over 50 different nationalities represented. 

For more information on the schools above, please go to each school’s individual entry on the Good Schools Guide international search.


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