The British School in Tokyo takes a well rounded approach to excellence

When thinking about the kinds of organizations that would be likely contenders to take home an award for best business of the year, your first pick would probably not be an independent school.

That’s one of the reasons why Brian Christian, Principal at the British School in Tokyo, said that he felt so calm at last year’s 2014 British Business Awards Ceremony, where he was representing the school alongside some staggeringly large organizations. “It was nice to be there and enjoy the occasion, because we were relaxed! We never thought we would win the thing.”

But win it they did, and though he speaks modestly about the achievement, the recognition was clearly well deserved. It also may have been the only time that a school has ever been chosen by a Chamber of Commerce for such an award. As for the reasons why, Christian was quick to point out that as BST is a not-for-profit organization, it certainly wasn’t the “eye-watering amount of money” that the school had managed to accrue in the previous year. It was something a bit more valuable.


BST Principal Brian Christian heads to the podium to accept the British Business Award

“One [reason] is that we do play a very important part in supporting British businesses in Japan. If you want good people to come to Tokyo to work for your company, if you haven’t got a good school to send your children to, then it’s hard to get those talented people to move to Tokyo! And I think another key criteria was our ability to demonstrate genuine partnership with Japanese communities and Japanese organizations.”

There are also several criteria that are central to a British style education, and the school’s position as an overseas international school adds at least one more axis upon which to maintain a balanced approach. The first component is an assurance that students will maintain the same academic standards as any other British school around the world across the grade years. In order to maintain this high standard, BST’s accreditation is approved by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI)—the same inspecting body that maintains England’s most prestigious independent schools, such as Eton or Westminster. Needless to say, following their March inspection, they were given an “excellent” (the highest grade) in all of the ISI’s eight criteria.

But as the Cambridge-trained student of English Literature—and rugby devotee—would be first to admit, to be a star on the books is not enough. “Unlike some systems, academic excellence is just one strand and at BST there’s a lot of focus on music, sport, drama, adventurous activities…that balance is so important—I’d say that it’s a hallmark of British education, and particularly independent British school education.”


Photo courtesy of 37 Frames

Finally, there is the need to balance out a child’s personal development with his or her larger understanding of the world: “One of the things I feel strongly about is that it’s so important for schools and parents to develop in young people the ability to stand in the shoes of others, the ability to see things from different perspectives.” And as Christian explains, the BST experience offers several different vantage points: it might be the chance for a senior to help out a younger student with a subject—or a part of school life—that they’re finding a challenge, a dynamic that is made possible by grade-vertical tutor groups. It could be an exchange class with one of the school’s two Japanese partners: Shibuya Kyoiku Gakuen or Showa Women’s University. The schools exchange classes both ways, affording Japanese and international students the opportunity to learn about the other’s way of life. Or it might be through the school’s many off-campus activities that provide a chance for BSIT’s students to see parts of Japan that many adults—foreign or native Japanese—might not get to see, whether it be by running the length of the Kyoto-to-Tokyo Nakasendo Way or by staying with a host family in rural Kyushu.

The previous years have brought many accolades to the school, but Christian has no intention of resting on his laurels. After signing on for another three years as principal, he’s looking ahead to the next steps in BST’s future, including a plan to build a larger campus that can meet the growing demand of prospective students, as well as the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and 2020 Olympics, both of which will offer the school community opportunities to take on active volunteer roles as Tokyo welcomes the world to its expansive city limits. “This probably means,” Christian added, “that I won’t be retiring back to England any time soon.”

Main Image courtesy of 37 Frames

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