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Concord Bilingual: A Holistic Approach towards Education

June, 2017
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It’s not surprising to hear about a new school opening in Shanghai. However, this new school to open in the heart of Shanghai - Huangpu District this September is truly worthy of attention – Shanghai Concord Bilingual School (SCBS). The sister school to Concord College UK – one of England’s premier international schools, SCBS is privileged to be set up under the leadership of its Founding Executive Principal, Ms Gail C. Denham. Prior to her appointment in Shanghai, Ms Denham was the Head of Lower School at Concord College UK for six years. Her incredible teaching career, wealth of knowledge in international education and her strong vision of good education will surely lead the new school to a resounding success.

LittleStar is honored to interview Principal Denham about this exciting new school and its unique programs on offer to students in Shanghai.

0j7a2725e589afe69cac1“At Shanghai Concord Bilingual School (SCBS), our aim is to build a community where every child feels valued and supported, feels motivated and indeed inspired to strive for the standards of academic excellence so clearly demonstrated by our sister school in the UK. By combining the very best of the Chinese education system with the very best from Concord UK, we intend to equip our students with the tools that they need to thrive in the world that waits for them after High School, to rise above the competition and to fly.” 

LittleStar: Welcome to Shanghai! How long have you been here and how do you like it so far?

Principal Denham: I first visited Shanghai last December for a week to look at the school site and discuss the role. Having accepted the position, I returned in January and have been busy working on staff and student recruitment since then. Living in a city is a new experience for me as I am from a very rural part of England, so I am really enjoying the excitement of city life. Shanghai is an amazing place, so full of energy and certainly never seems to sleep!

LittleStar: What made you accept the challenge of coming to China to open a brand new school?

Principal Denham: When I worked at Concord UK the possibility of a sister school in China was often discussed and I had always thought what a wonderful opportunity it would be. Concord is a very special place and to have the chance to bring some of its magic to a new group of students was too good to miss.

LittleStar: Can you please introduce yourself and your splendid teaching career to our readers?

Principal Denham: I have been a teacher all my working life, with a short break of eight years to raise a family. I have taught in a variety of different types of schools, both state and private, with the last sixteen being in the private sector, where I worked in boarding schools teaching IGCSE and A-level philosophy. I love teaching, but particularly a subject like philosophy, where there is no right and wrong answer. It is a chance for students to really explore their own ideas, to challenge the thinking of others in a supportive environment.  

LittleStar: As the former Head of Lower School at Concord College UK, can you please tell us more about this premier international school in England, and how its values will transfer to Shanghai?

Principal Denham: This was my last position before moving to Shanghai. It was an exciting six years, living and working in this premier International school in the UK, where over 40 nationalities work in harmony. I was responsible for the academic and pastoral welfare of the Lower School, students aged 13-16 years. The college has an enviable reputation, achieving superb A level results that place it at the top of the school league tables and its students regularly securing places at the top ten universities in the UK, Oxford, Cambridge amongst them. In my time there the IGCSE results rose rapidly from a 54% A/A* pass rate to one of 86%, bringing it in line with the performance of the senior students.

The key reasons for this were the introduction of a very close system of student monitoring that allowed us to pick up on a struggling student almost instantly. The other new introduction was that of the ESB course (English Speaking Board). This course is designed to build personal self-confidence by teaching presentational skills. It proved of enormous benefit to students working in a language that was not their own. Both the system of monitoring and the ESB course are things that I intend to develop here in SCBS.

LittleStar: So, what kind of school will Shanghai Concord Bilingual School be?

Principal Denham: I think we are going to be rather unique, in terms of our support from the Huangpu government and also in terms of our location. Our site in Runan Street is only temporary, and in a few years we will be moving to a purpose-built site, which is such an exciting prospect. Our academic programme for Middle School acknowledges the great wealth of Chinese culture allowing students to continue to prepare for the Zhongkao, but at the same time providing an intensive course taught in English that prepares them for IGCSE courses once they move into High School. I think many parents today are keen to provide their children with the opportunity of studying abroad for their A levels or for university, but are concerned that this is not done at the expense of their own culture. I think we are offering them the best of both worlds. 

LittleStar: Shanghai Concord Bilingual School and Concord College UK are sister schools, how do you think the two schools can support each other under this partnership?
Principal Denham
: Initially, we are the ones who benefit. Concord UK have provided guidance and advice every step of the way in the development of SCBS and will continue to do so. They are so well established and so experienced that I can call on experts for assistance at any time. For example, in a few years when our first students are facing university applications and interviews, there are teachers from CCUK who will come over to run training classes to give guidance in both UK and US application procedures. Our students will have the opportunity to attend special Pre-University courses at CCUK that are designed to assist students who are preparing for specific careers. Our students also have the opportunity to transfer to CCUK for part of their education once they reach High School. This is a link that we intend to strengthen over the years, but we also hope to invite an exchange in the other direction as well.

LittleStar: You are interviewing new students every day. What qualities do you look for?

Principal Denham: Students applying for High School need good English if they are to access the curriculum effectively. They are tested in both English and Maths. They also need to be focused and determined students, as they have a tough year ahead of them if they are going to achieve at the highest level, which is what we intend for them. We expect them to strive for academic excellence.

For the younger students there is no testing, but we do interview the students in line with government direction. We also consider their school reports. What we are looking for in our younger students is what I call ’sparkle’. They should be interested in the world around them, enquiring and inquisitive and be keen to learn.

LittleStar: How many students do you plan to recruit for the first year and what are your expectations for these founding students?

Principal Denham: We have a target of 50 High School and 150 Middle School students. Our expectations are that they will embrace Concord’s core values of harmony, trust and decency. That they should be, ‘the best that they can be’.

LittleStar: Give us three best reasons families should choose Concord Bilingual for their kids.

Principal Denham: If the families value their Chinese heritage and want this to be combined with a Western education in a truly bilingual way, choose SCBS. If the families think that the happiness of a child should be central to education, choose SCBS. From our point of view, a happy, confident child is one that thrives. What’s more, we are the only bilingual school based in the Huangpu area – the best location for all families!




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