As part of our seasonal look at the top international schools in Tokyo, we visited the British School in Tokyo and found it was in safe hands and looking forward to the future. 

Interview by Mary Rudow

Why do parents who are non-British choose to give their children a British education and why choose the British School? There are now 720 students attending BST (more on the waiting list in some year groups) and of these about 50% are non-British. I wanted to find out why.

Brian Christian, Principal of The British School in Tokyo, holds a master’s in English Literature from Cambridge University and has had more than three decades of experience teaching in and running schools and colleges; 28 of those years were in his home country – the UK.

“I think many parents feel that their children need the structure and the sense of discipline that exists in most British schools – certainly in the private sector,” he tells me. “When expectations are high and everyone knows where the boundaries are, things tend to run more smoothly; everyone ends up learning more and enjoying that learning. This sense of connection and mutual respect (between students and teachers) leads to an encouraging, easy atmosphere in which real learning can take place, and where there is always room for creativity. Good schools are built around good people; our teachers are dedicated and the children really enjoy being around them. This doesn’t happen by accident – I don’t think I‘ve ever been in a school where more care is put into the recruitment of capable and qualified educators.”

Brian Christian

Brian Christian outside the school, which has campuses in Shibuya (Nursery to Year 3) and at the Showa Women’s University, in Setagaya.

It seems having the right elements not only produces contented children but good academic results as well. Last year, the collective year-end test results of all grades (primary and secondary) at BST far surpassed those of their counterparts at the independent and grammar schools in the UK. In the report of a recent inspection conducted by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, the school was described as ‘Excellent’ – the highest grading possible – in all eight standards.

Inspectors described BST as a “dynamic, creative, educational community which is successful in meeting its aims in delivering a world-class, British education in Tokyo to international students from over 50 countries.”

“An A-level programme [the standard in the UK] was introduced just over two years ago for students in years 12 and 13 who are preparing to move on to higher education in universities all over the world,” Brian tells me.

“We are currently the only school in Japan that offers this progression to A-levels and at the end of the last academic year we saw BST’s first ever cohort of graduates settling into the universities of their choice, it was a rewarding feeling! This year we are delighted that we will be sending our first student to Cambridge.”

So how did it all start for Brian and the British School?

“I took on the position as Principal of BST in August 2012 because it seemed like an interesting and exciting challenge. I didn’t take too long to think about it because the school was clearly headed in the right direction and at a very interesting stage in its development.”

“My ambition is to see real development and growth in the secondary school and to spread the word about the high regard universities worldwide have for the A-level course. Later this year we will launch an exciting one-year foundation course, F1. This is aimed at bright young 15 and 16 year-olds with real leadership potential who wish to transfer from other educational systems onto the A-level programme.”

“Of course,” he continues, “education is not just about academic achievement. Exam results mean a great deal but they’re not the be-all and end-all. Character development is at the heart of all that we do here, and I believe that this is now more important than ever. We have a responsibility to help our young people to grow up into caring, considerate global citizens, and I am keen to push this more and more.

“I am determined that 2013 will be a year in which BST will make a significant difference to the lives of those who cannot enjoy many of the things that we are able to take for granted. January’s Ichi-en koka appeal will be just the first in a series of monthly initiatives and projects. Also, 2014 will see BST’s 25th anniversary so there’s a lot on the horizon. Let’s just say that whatever we come up with, it’ll be different and it’ll be exciting!”

Brian Christian is an avid writer and keeps an extremely interesting and informative blog on the BST website: