Surpassing Expectations

By Beth Roulston 2019-11-25 16:04:53

Why Harrow Shanghai pupils continue to achieve greatness

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Despite being quite a heavy statement, you only need to take a glimpse at an institution like Harrow Shanghai for it to all of a sudden make complete sense.

In 2019, not only did graduating pupils of Harrow Shanghai achieve a remarkable average of 54% A*/A grade across all of their A Levels, substantially higher than the reported UK 2019 average of 25.5%, but were also all accepted into their first-choice university; including University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, University of British Columbia, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Leeds College of Music, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, University College London, and more. This level of accomplishment requires hard work, excellent preparation, persistence and dedication, plus strong support from teachers. But to be frank, there are millions of pupils that do all of the above and more and still do not get into their preferred university.

The question is, what qualities do Harrow Shanghai pupils have that afford them such success?

Undoubtedly, recognition must be given to the teachers. After speaking with the Director of Studies, Tom Corbett, it was clear that Harrow’s commitment to providing high quality education is a focus shared by all the teachers. From weekly meetings to share positive experiences, to connecting with other Harrow schools worldwide, each teacher continuously looks for a better way to support their pupils with their learning.

“A big part of my job is to help all the teachers here become the best that they can possibly be. Sharing best practice is an inherent part of the fabric of everyday life at Harrow Shanghai.”

Director of Studies, Tom Corbett


A prime example of this would be English Literature teacher James Moan who uses sound during his lessons to help pupils concentrate. Upon entering his classroom, I smiled when I realised that James had selected an auditory file of the jungle as background noise for his year eight lesson on ‘Lord of the Flies’. When I asked him where the inspiration for this came from, he told me that studies have shown that sound helps pupils to connect with whatever they are learning. During other classes, James has also used subtle coffee shop background noise to help pupils focus; silence, as they say, can sometimes be deafening.

Going above and beyond the call of duty seems to be a shared trait amongst all teachers at Harrow Shanghai. For Teacher of History and Higher Education Counsellor, Felix Baden-Powell, ensuring the pupils were equipped with right skills for university interviews came down to not just giving them hints and tips on what they should prepare, but even going so far as to set up practice interviews with lecturers and previous students of prestigious universities such as Oxford. However, what impressed me most is that Felix understands that educating pupils on what to expect once they are physically at university is just as paramount.

As a woman, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of the things that Felix discussed with the pupils was the topic of consent along with how to manage your finances, protect yourself against sexual assault and how to deal with culture shock/ homesickness. In fact, most of the topics were inspired by anonymous questions that were sent to Felix from the pupils themselves.

As positive as all of these aspects are, the other important consideration for families is curriculum. Like its founding school, Harrow International School of Shanghai follows the British curriculum meaning its pupils study A Levels. As Head Master of Harrow Shanghai, Charles Ellison, has vast experience of both the International Baccalaureate (IB) and A Level curricula I asked him to highlight the reasons why A Level is a good option to help pupils succeed.

“There’s often been just such a huge focus on getting students into university that you sort of forget about them once they’ve gotten in. And I recognised that there was a bit of a gap there. So, every week I ran several sessions to help them with this.”

Teacher of History and Higher Education Counsellor, Felix Baden-Powell


His explanation was this: A Level enables teenagers to study their chosen field in depth while also affording them the time to pursue extracurricular activities such as sports, drama, music and volunteering. For careers such as engineering, A Level can be a crucial way to attain knowledge in complicated fields of study, that are required for acceptance onto the course, without the stress of having to also pass other potentially unnecessary subjects.

“By the time they’re sixteen, 95% of the pupils in this school are really rather clear about where their academic talents and passions and interests lie… they may well even at that age, have a strong indication of where that’s going to lead them in terms of university and maybe career beyond.”

Having a strong understanding of the course content can also help to prove to top universities that your child is serious about their chosen subject and can mean the difference between a yes and a no.

As most international education comes at a hefty price, I was most delighted to discover that in keeping with its charity foundations and ethos Harrow Shanghai has announced that it will now be offering a unique Scholarship programme for special individuals who cannot afford tuition. It is initiatives like this that recognise that talent can come from the most unlikely of places. By offering those less fortunate with an opportunity to change their fate, institutions like Harrow fill me with hope for future generations.

Head Master, Charles Ellison